BAGHDAD -- A roadside bomb killed seven US soldiers in northwest Baghdad, and two Marines were killed in western Iraq yesterday, the deadliest day for American forces since a suicide attack on a US base last month.
The bombing occurred as Iraq extended a state of emergency by 30 days to battle militants whose attacks have surged ahead of elections scheduled for Jan. 30. The prime minister warned that the number of assaults would only rise as voting day approaches.
The commander of US ground forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, acknowledged yesterday that security is poor in four of 18 Iraqi provinces. But he said at a briefing in the capital that delaying the vote would only increase the danger.
"I can't guarantee that every person in Iraq that wants to vote goes to a polling booth and can do that safely," he said. "We're going to do everything possible to create that condition . . . but we are fighting an enemy who cares less who he kills, when he kills, and how he kills. A delay in the elections just gives the thugs and terrorists more time to continue their intimidation, their cruelty, their brutal murders of innocent people."
The soldiers with Task Force Baghdad were on patrol last night when their Bradley fighting vehicle hit the explosive, the military said in a statement. Everyone inside the Bradley was killed.
Newsday reported that the seven were members of New York's 69th Infantry Regiment, a National Guard unit. Half of the Guard regiment's members are from Long Island, Newsday said, although the unit also includes soldiers from other states.
No other details were available last night about the attack. But insurgents in Iraq have frequently targeted US troops with crude explosives planted in roads and detonated remotely as patrols pass.
Amid the heightened threat of insurgent violence, senior Defense Department officials said yesterday that retired four-star General Gary E. Luck would be sent to Iraq next week to conduct an "open-ended" review of the military's entire Iraq policy, including troop levels, training programs for Iraqi security forces, and strategy for fighting the insurgency, The New York Times reported. The Times cited senior defense officials as saying that at a meeting yesterday with top military and civilian aides, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld instructed Luck, the highly regarded former head of US forces in South Korea and former adviser to General Tommy R. Franks during the Iraq campaign in 2003, to look at all areas of the operation, identify weaknesses, and report in a few weeks with a confidential assessment.
The two Marines killed in action yesterday were from the First Marine Expeditionary Force. They died in Anbar Province, home to the volatile city of Fallujah.
The previous four days had seen a string of assassinations, suicide car bombings, and other assaults that killed 90 people.
On Tuesday, five US troops were killed, including three Task Force Baghdad soldiers who died in a roadside bombing, one who was slain in Anbar, and another who died in Balad, north of Baghdad. But the toll yesterday was the highest for the US military in Iraq since a suicide bombing at a mess tent in Mosul on Dec. 21 killed 22 people, including 14 US soldiers and three American contractors.
The latest deaths brought to 1,350 the number of US troops killed since the beginning of the war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,063 died from hostile action.
The military said the names of the troops who died yesterday were being withheld until their families are notified.
As militants continued with the attacks, Iraqi authorities made some grisly discoveries. Police in the southern city of Basra found two charred, beheaded bodies in a house used by election officials. Police also announced that they found the bodies of 18 young Shi'ites who were killed last month while seeking work at a US base.
The state of emergency, originally announced two months ago, was extended for 30 days throughout the country except for the northern Kurdish-run areas, a government statement said. The decree includes a nighttime curfew and expands government power to make arrests and launch military or police operations.
Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said he expected that the number of attacks would rise before the Jan. 30 vote and called the decision on prolonging the state of emergency a precaution. He attributed the continuing violence to former members of Saddam Hussein's regime.
"Saddam's followers, who have intensely shed the blood of our people and army, are still in action clandestinely, allying with a bunch of criminals, murderers, and terrorists who are the enemies of our people and our progress," Allawi said at a ceremony to mark the national Army Day holiday.
Allawi, a secular Shi'ite, is insisting that the elections proceed, despite calls from some Sunni religious leaders for a boycott. Sunni Arab political parties have largely withdrawn from the race because of security fears, particularly in western Iraq. Some have sought a delay of the vote.
The United States strongly opposes a postponement. Metz acknowledged that US forces "continue to deal with violence and lawlessness in some areas," specifically citing Nineveh, Anbar, Salahadin, and Baghdad Provinces. But he said other areas were secure enough to allow the elections to proceed.
Foreign ministers of neighboring countries issued a statement yesterday that said they "stood strongly behind the interim government of Iraq" and urge "all segments" of society to participate in the elections. The election is expected to shift power to the Shi'ite Muslim community, an estimated 60 percent of the population that had been dominated by the Sunni Arab minority since modern Iraq was created after World War I.
The call was backed by Jordan, a Sunni-dominated neighbor that previously supported postponing the election. King Abdullah II also had suggested that the elections would produce an Iraq controlled by Shi'ites who would quickly align themselves with Iran, ruled by a Shi'ite theocracy.
But Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi of Jordan insisted that the elections proceed as scheduled. "I call on all factions of the Iraqi people . . . to go to the polls to choose their representatives and draw their own future," he said. Failing to do that "will leave the door open for others to choose for them."
The charred bodies of the two beheaded Iraqi policemen were found in a house in Basra used by officials organizing the election, police said.
In the deaths of the 18 Iraqis seeking work with the Americans, police said the insurgents shot the young men -- ages 14 to 20 -- on Dec. 8 after stopping two minibuses about 30 miles west of Mosul. Their hands were tied behind their backs and each was shot in the head, police said. All had been hired by an Iraqi contractor to work at a US base in Mosul.
The bodies were found Wednesday, the day a suicide attacker blew up an explosives-laden car outside a police academy south of Baghdad, killing 20 people. A second car bomber killed five Iraqi policemen in Baqubah. Both attacks were claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Iraqi forces announced the arrest of Abdul Aziz Sa-dun Ahmed Hamduni, a leader of Zarqawi's group in Mosul.