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Roadside bomb attacks in Iraq kill 7 US soldiers

Troop boost in capital raises vulnerability

US soldiers carried a wounded comrade after a blast yesterday on a road in Diwaniyah. Two soldiers were wounded in the attack. (Eduardo Munoz/reuters)

BAGHDAD -- Six US soldiers and an interpreter were killed Saturday when a roadside bomb exploded near their position in western Baghdad, the US military reported yesterday, underscoring the heightened vulnerability of US forces as they increase their presence in the capital.

A roadside bomb killed a seventh US soldier Saturday in Diwaniyah, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, the military said. Two soldiers were wounded in that attack.

The deaths raise to 71 the number of US service members killed this month, according to iCasualties.org, an independent website that tracks military deaths.

The rising death toll comes as thousands of additional US and Iraqi troops are engaged in a high-profile operation to improve the security situation in the capital. US officials warned when they announced the new plan in mid-February that putting as many as 25,000 additional US troops in the urban environment would raise their exposure and vulnerability, and that higher casualty rates were expected.

Military deaths have been increasing since fall, and the first half of this year has been deadlier than any six-month period since the war began more than four years ago.

According to iCasualties.org, 531 US service members have been killed since Dec. 1, an average of more than three deaths a day, and 3,422 have died since the war began in March 2003.

The troops killed Saturday in Baghdad were part of an operation searching for weapons caches and bomb-making materials in the western part of the city over the past week "to aid in providing a more secure and safe environment for the Iraqi people," the military said in a statement.

In an unrelated development, US forces on Saturday killed a man they said was the mastermind of a well-planned guerrilla assault in January in which gunmen posing as Americans drove into a government compound in the southern holy city of Karbala, killed a US soldier, then abducted four other US soldiers who were later killed.

Azhar al-Dulaimi was killed in a raid on a building north of Sadr City, a large Shi'ite district in the capital, said Major General William Caldwell, the US military's top spokesman. He said Dulaimi initially appeared to surrender but was shot while trying to grab a soldier's gun and died en route to the hospital.

Dulaimi was linked to the Karbala attack by fingerprints found at the scene, Caldwell said, adding that other evidence indicated that Dulaimi was trained by Iranian intelligence operatives and the Lebanese Shi'ite movement Hezbollah. Dulaimi was also linked to the kidnapping of an Iraqi American soldier in October and a mass kidnapping at an Iraqi Education Ministry building last year, Caldwell said. There was no indication that the Iranian government had ordered the Karbala attack, Caldwell said.

Meanwhile, more than two dozen Iraqis were reported killed by roadside bombs, suicide attacks, mortar strikes, and other violence yesterday.

In addition, Iraqi national police reported finding 32 bodies : 22 in Baghdad, six in Mahmudiyah, about 15 miles south of the capital, and four in the northern city of Mosul.

The US military said it killed eight insurgents and arrested 34 in operations in Karmah, a Sunni area about 20 miles west of Baghdad, and in an area southwest of the capital.

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