7 US marines killed in Iraq's Anbar Province
Seven U.S. Marines were killed in two separate incidents in Iraq's Anbar province, a vast region encompassing the battleground cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, the military said Monday.
It was unknown whether the deaths Sunday were connected to heavy fighting in Fallujah. American warplanes pounded the city with missiles as insurgents fought running battles with coalition forces.
On Sunday, the military reported the death of another U.S. Marine in Anbar.
The seven members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force died while conducting "security and stabilization operations" in Anbar, the military said in a statement.
The statement gave no other details about the deaths, saying the release of more information could place U.S. personnel at risk. The names of the dead were withheld pending notification of their families.
As of Monday, at least 1,296 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Fallujah was the scene of a weeklong U.S.-led offensive last month to uproot insurgents based in the city. U.S. officials had said the insurgents scattered and they now were planning the return of the estimated 250,000 people who fled.
The latest violence began with American and Iraqi forces clashing with guerrillas in several suburbs and ended with U.S. airstrikes on suspected insurgent hideouts.
"The strikes were conducted throughout the day and were called in by troops in (armed) contact with and observing the enemy moving from house to house," spokesman Lt. Lyle Gilbert said.
Fallujah resident Abdullah Ahmed said the fighting started after U.S. soldiers brought 700-800 men into the city to clear rubble from damage caused by November's offensive.
"The clashes started as soon as the young men entered the city," Ahmed said. "The American troops were surprised and decided to launch military operations."
The military hoped it had routed the insurgents after the Fallujah invasion, but the latest attacks suggest they may be trickling back into the city.