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Seven US troops killed in Iraq blasts

More sophisticated explosive devices noted by military

BAGHDAD -- Capping the bloodiest month for American troops since January, the US military reported yesterday that seven more US service members were killed -- all victims of increasingly sophisticated bombs that have become the deadliest weapon in the insurgents' arsenal.

Bombs also claimed a toll yesterday among civilians in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city and the major metropolis of the Shi'ite-dominated south, which has witnessed less violence than Sunni areas. A large car bomb exploded along a bustling street packed with shops and restaurants as people were enjoying an evening out after the daily Ramadan fast. At least 20 were killed and about 40 wounded, police Lieutenant Colonel Karim al-Zaidi said.

Military commanders have warned that Sunni insurgents will step up their attacks in the run-up to the Dec. 15 election, when Iraqis will choose their first full-term parliament since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime in 2003.

To guard against such attacks, the military has raised the number of American troops in Iraq to 157,000 -- among the highest levels of the Iraq conflict.

Last Friday, an improvised explosive device, or IED killed Colonel William W. Wood, 44, of Panama City, Fla., an infantry battalion commander. He was promoted posthumously, making him the highest-ranking soldier killed in action in the Iraq conflict.

''We see an adversary that continues to develop some sophistication on very deadly and increasingly precise stand-off type weapons -- IEDs, in particular," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita told reporters yesterday.

''We're getting more intelligence that's allowing us to stop more of these things, find more of them. So we're learning from them and the enemy is learning from us, and it's going to be that way for as long as there is an insurgency," Di Rita said.

Yesterday's deadliest attack against US service members came in an area known as the ''triangle of death." Four soldiers from the US Army's Task Force Baghdad died when their patrol struck a roadside bomb in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad.

Two other soldiers from the Army's 29th Brigade Combat Team were also killed in a bombing yesterday near Balad, 50 miles north of the capital. The US military also reported that a Marine died the day before in a roadside bombing near Amiriyah, an insurgent hotspot 25 miles west of Baghdad.

The US military death toll for October is now at least 92, the highest monthly total since January, when 106 American service members died -- more than 30 of them in a helicopter crash that was ruled an accident. Only during two other months since the war began has the US military seen a higher toll: in November 2004, when 137 Americans died, and in April 2004, when 135 died.

The latest deaths brought to 2,025 the number of US service members who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003. The ongoing violence has killed a far greater number of Iraqis.

Earlier yesterday near the Syrian border, Marines backed by jets attacked insurgent targets in a cluster of towns and villages near the Syrian border. The raid was part of an ongoing operation in an area believed heavily infiltrated by Al Qaeda in Iraq and foreign fighters.

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