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11 more US troops killed in Iraq violence

Sunnis skeptical of effort to stem sectarian slayings

BAGHDAD -- The US military announced the deaths of nine soldiers and two Marines yesterday in what has been a deadly period for American forces in Iraq.

The announcement brought to at least 15 the number of service members killed in fighting since Saturday and coincided with a violent day across Iraq that left at least 51 Iraqis dead.

The military said four US soldiers were killed over the previous 24 hours in a roadside bomb attack in northwest Baghdad, and four more died yesterday in small-arms attacks around the capital.

The deaths brought to 2,172 the number of US military personnel killed in action, and the death toll since the March 2003 invasion to 2,721, according to Pentagon figures.

The US military suffered 75 fatalities last month, its highest number since 79 personnel were killed in April, according to the US Department of Defense.

Attacks on US and Iraqi forces have risen since the start of Operation Forward Together in August, when a force of 3,500 US soldiers was transferred to Baghdad to combat increasing lawlessness in the Iraqi capital.

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Sunni politicians, meanwhile, expressed worries over a new government plan to stop sectarian violence. The plan, announced Monday by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, won some praise in parliament yesterday, but Shi'ite and Sunni leaders delayed potentially contentious talks to work out its details.

The four-point plan calls for creating neighborhood Shi'ite-Sunni committees to monitor efforts against sectarian violence. The aim is to overcome the deep mistrust between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

Many Sunnis remain skeptical that Shi'ite leaders will allow security forces to crack down more strongly on Shi'ite militias blamed for killing Sunnis -- including some linked to parties in the government.

``I haven't seen any real desire in the other side. There are militias supported by the government," said Sunni lawmaker Khalaf al-Alayan.

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said that under the plan, parties that have militias have agreed to take ``responsibility for what their groups or people under them are doing . . . committing themselves to ending the sectarian violence."

Still, ``there are forces that are not under their control," Khalilzad said in an interview with National Public Radio. ``But if they implement what they've agreed to, there should be a significant decrease in the level of violence in Baghdad."

Some 400 Sunnis marched yesterday at the site of one of the kidnappings -- a frozen meat factory in Baghdad's Amil district -- demanding the government put a stop to the violence. Some carried banners reading ``get police troops out of our area" -- reflecting the widespread suspicion that Shi'ite-led security forces have been infiltrated by militias.

Gunmen took 24 workers from the factory on Sunday, and the bodies of seven were later found dumped in the capital. The fate of the others is not known.

The Interior Ministry said the police commander for the Amil district had been discharged and arrested for investigation in the kidnapping -- a possible response to Sunni complaints that Shi'ite-led security forces allow militias to operate freely.

In yesterday's violence, a suicide bomber unleashed a blast in a Baghdad fish market and two Shi'ite families were found slain north of the capital as violence across Iraq claimed at least 51 lives.

Hours later, four mortars hit homes in another Sunni district, killing seven people and wounding 25.

The mixed city of Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, saw a string of deadly attacks. Gunmen opened fire on a Shi'ite family trying to flee the city, killing five of them.

Later, the bodies of a woman and two men lay on the street near the family truck, billowing smoke.

In addition, eight people were killed in another shooting in Baqubah, and two others died in a roadside bombing.

Attacks elsewhere in Baghdad and around the country killed 16 other people.

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