Suicide car bombing in Iraq kills 4 US troops, interpreter
Casualties had been declining
BAGHDAD - A suicide car bomber struck a US patrol in northern Iraq yesterday, killing four American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter in the deadliest single attack against US forces in nine months.
The blast occurred as US vehicles were passing near an Iraqi police checkpoint in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city and the last major urban battleground in the war against Al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgents.
American casualties have fallen to some of their lowest levels of the war since thousands of Sunnis abandoned the insurgency and US and Iraqi forces routed Shi'ite militias in Baghdad and Basra last spring. Only five of the 16 US service members who died in Iraq last month were killed in action.
However, fighting continues in Mosul and elsewhere in northern Iraq - a conflict that US officials say is driven in part by ethnic rivalries between Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Many Sunni extremists are believed to have fled north after being driven from longtime strongholds in Baghdad and central Iraq.
A US statement said three US soldiers were killed at the scene of yesterday's attack. A fourth soldier and the interpreter died of wounds at a military hospital, the United States said.
An Iraqi police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said two Iraqi policemen and one civilian were wounded.
It was the deadliest single attack against US troops since May 2, when four Marines were killed in a roadside bombing in Anbar province, a former insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.
Four US soldiers were killed Jan. 26 when two helicopters collided in the air near the northern city of Kirkuk, but US officials said the crash did not appear to be a result of hostile fire.
At least 4,243 US military men and women have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Despite a sharp drop in bombings, shootings, and killings, security controls remain intense throughout much of the country.
The government announced yesterday that tens of thousands of Iraqi security forces had been stationed along routes leading to the Shi'ite holy city of Karbala to protect religious pilgrims marching there for rituals this week.
Attacks by Al Qaeda in Iraq, other Sunni insurgents, Shi'ite extremists and a Shi'ite cult have killed hundreds of people during pilgrimages in recent years.
Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite pilgrims are expected to visit Karbala by Monday to mark the end of 40 days of mourning that follow Ashoura, the anniversary of the seventh-century death of the Prophet Mohammed's grandson Hussein.
He was killed in a battle for the leadership of the nascent Muslim nation following Mohammed's death in 632.
Also yesterday, two Iraqi security officials said four Iraqis transferred here from the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay were being interrogated. The officials said the men had been arrested in Afghanistan and held at Guantanamo before being handed over to the Iraqis last month.