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U.S. Death Toll In Iraq Tops 3,500

Another U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, the military said Thursday, pushing the four-year death toll for American forces to 3,501, according to an Associated Press tally.

The count includes 23 deaths in the first six days of June, an average of about four per day.

The soldier was killed Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded during combat operations in a southwestern section of Baghdad, a military statement said. It added that two other soldiers were wounded in the attack and evacuated to a coalition medical facility.

The soldiers' names were withheld pending notification of relatives.

The Bush administration has warned that the current troop buildup in and around Baghdad will result in more U.S. casualties as American troops increasingly come into contact with enemy forces.

Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner told reporters Wednesday that the last of five brigades earmarked for the buildup will arrive in the "next couple of weeks," but may take up to two months to establish itself as fully operational.

In other developments:

  • Anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr went on state-run TV in his first interview since the U.S. surge began, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan, and blamed all of Iraq's problems on U.S. forces. Sadr's comments are being watched closely by U.S. intelligence, Logan reports, because he's the one man in Iraq who can single-handedly affect the success of the U.S. surge.
  • Public approval of the job President Bush is doing now matches its all-time low, an AP-Ipsos poll says. The survey reflects widespread discontent over how Mr. Bush is handling the war in Iraq, efforts against terrorism and domestic issues.
  • The Army general picked by President Bush to become his personal war adviser suggested Thursday that pressuring the Iraqis to take on more responsibility might not work. "I have reservations about just how much leverage we can apply in a system that's not very capable right now," Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
  • Turkey has declared several areas near the border with Iraq to be "temporary security zones" in a sign of increasing activity by the military in its campaign against Kurdish rebels. The declaration Wednesday came amid a Turkish military buildup on the border, and on the same day as Turkish security officials and an Iraqi Kurdish official said hundreds of Turkish troops crossed into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish guerrillas who launch raids into Turkey.
  • A female Iraqi journalist was shot to death while she was waiting for a taxi Thursday in the northern city of Mosul, according to police and her news agency. Sahar al-Haidari, a 45-year-old mother of four, covered political and cultural news for the independent Voices of Iraq news agency and was second employee of the organization to be killed in just over a week.

    Meanwhile, bombers struck across the country again Thursday, from a restaurant in Baghdad's teeming Sadr City to a police station leveled by a blast near the Syrian border. At least 15 people were reported killed.

    In the capital's eastern Sadr City district, a Shiite Muslim stronghold, a bomb beneath a parked car exploded at lunchtime outside a falafel restaurant, police reported. At least three people were killed and eight wounded, said a police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information.

    Sadr City has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists seeking to terrorize the Shiite majority and inflame hostilities between the Muslim sects.

    Earlier, in the day's first reported attack, a suicide bomber blew up his explosives-laden truck at about 9 a.m. at a police station in Rabia, near Iraq's border with Syria, killing at least four policemen and five civilians, and wounding 22 other people, an Iraqi army spokesman said.

  • A guard shot the driver as he approached the building, but the truck still penetrated its blast walls and exploded, destroying the one-story structure, said Capt. Mohammed Ahmed of the army's Third Division. Rabia is 50 miles west of Mosul and about three miles from Syria.

    An hour later, in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, police said three policemen were killed and four wounded when a suicide driver blew up his automobile at their checkpoint near the traffic police headquarters.

    U.S. military spokesman Maj. Jeff Pool disputed the report and offered different details, saying Iraqi police foiled the attack by shooting at a dump truck, causing it to explode. He said several civilians were wounded, but nobody was killed except the attacker.

    In other attacks Thursday, mortar shells landing in two districts of western Baghdad killed two civilians and wounded 12 others, police reported.

    On the offensive early Thursday, a joint Iraqi-American force raided locations in Baghdad's Sadr City and detained 16 suspected members of a "secret cell terrorist network" believed helping transport weapons, including advanced roadside bombs, from Iran to Iraq, the U.S. command reported.

    An Iraqi police officer said two on-duty policemen in the area were wounded by random fire from the raiding party.

    At midday, in another incident, an exploding roadside bomb targeting a U.S. patrol wounded two Iraqi civilians in the Neiriya area of eastern Baghdad, and two others were wounded when the Americans opened fire randomly at the scene, an Iraqi police officer said.

    All the Iraqi police officers spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information and feared repercussions.

    The U.S. command press information center said it had no immediate information on the casualties in those two incidents.

    In another development, the British ambassador to Iraq, Dominic Asquith, issued an appeal to the kidnappers of five Britons, held since May 29, to release them or open negotiations.

    The five — four security guards and a consultant — were abducted from the Iraqi Finance Ministry by some 40 heavily armed men who then rode off with them in the direction of Sadr City.

    Iraqi officials have said they believe they were taken by the radical Shiite Mahdi Army militia, possibly in retaliation for the killing by British forces of the militia's commander in the southern city of Basra.

    "I ask those holding them to release them so they may return to their families," Asquith said. Then, in a clear offer to consider demands, he added, "We have people here in Iraq who are ready to listen to any person about this incident, or any person who may be holding these men and who may wish to communicate."

    Much of the Mahdi Army is believed loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who said Thursday that he maintains "friendship and good relations" with Iran but rejects any interference by Tehran in Iraq's affairs.

    Al-Sadr made the comments in an interview on Iraqi state television, nearly two weeks after he re-emerged in public after dropping out of sight amid a U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown nearly four months ago.

    The anti-American cleric dodged a question about his disappearance from public view during which he was believed to have been in Iran. But he said he rejected Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

    "I must maintain friendship and good relations with Iran but nothing else," he said.

    The Mahdi Army, which fought U.S. forces in 2004, has been blamed for many of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian attacks in Iraq. The U.S. accuses Iran of fueling the violence by providing weapons and training fighters.

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