US troop deaths in Iraq rise to 1,500
BAGHDAD, Iraq - The number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq rose to 1,500 after the military announced Thursday that a soldier was killed in action just south of the capital, an Associated Press count showed.
The latest fatality occurred Wednesday in Babil province, part of an area known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the frequency of insurgent attacks on U.S.- and Iraqi-led forces there.
The emergency decree, first announced nearly four months ago, includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems necessary.
In eastern Baghdad, two suicide car bombs exploded outside the Interior Ministry, killing at least two policemen and wounding five others, police Maj. Jabar Hassan said. Officials at nearby al-Kindi hospital said 15 people were injured in the blasts.
Hassan said the car bombers had been trailing a police convoy that was trying to enter the ministry. Iraqi security forces opened fire on the vehicles and disabled them before they could arrive at a main checkpoint outside the building, said Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
"Casualties were very small because they didn't get to the checkpoint," Abdul-Rahman said.
In the north, insurgents blew up a gas pipeline that links Kirkuk to Dibis, said Col. Nozad Mohammad, a state oil security official in Kirkuk. Mohammad said the blast would decrease gas production but he could not say by how much. He said repairs would take at least five days. Last week, saboteurs blew up an oil pipeline in the same area.
Meanwhile, talks aimed at forging a new coalition government faltered Wednesday over Kurdish demands for more land and concerns that the dominant Shiite alliance seeks to establish an Islamic state, delaying the planned first meeting of Iraq's new parliament.
The snag in negotiations between Shiite and Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq came as clashes and two other car bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday killed at least 14 Iraqi soldiers and police officers — the latest in a relentless wave of violence since elections Jan. 30.
The group led by Iraq's most wanted terrorist, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, purportedly claimed responsibility in an Internet posting for Wednesday's clashes and at least one of the bombings. It also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing Monday that killed 125 people in Hillah, a town south of the capital.
National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie vowed the attacks would not derail the political process. "The Iraqi government will go after and hunt down each and every one of these terrorists whether in Iraq or elsewhere," he said.
The U.S. soldier killed Wednesday was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and died "while conducting security and stability operations," the military said without elaborating.
As is customary, the name of the soldier was withheld pending notification of family.
U.S. troops are killed nearly every day in Iraq.
The latest death brought to at least 1,500 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the U.S.-led war in Iraq began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,140 died as a result of hostile action, according to the Defense Department. The figures include four military civilians.
Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 1,362 U.S. military members have died, according to AP's count. That includes at least 1,030 deaths resulting from hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
The tally was compiled by the AP based on Pentagon records and AP reporting.
The U.S. exit strategy is dependent on handing over responsibility for security to Iraq's fledgling army and police forces. Forming Iraq's first democratically elected coalition government is turning out to be a laborious process.
Shiite and Kurdish leaders, Iraq's new political powers, failed to reach agreement after two days of negotiations in the northern city of Irbil, with the clergy-backed candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leaving with only half the deal he needed.
The Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which has 140 seats in the 275-member National Assembly, hopes to win backing from the 75 seats held by Kurdish political parties so it can muster the required two-thirds majority to insure control of top posts in the new government.
Al-Jaafari indicated after the talks that the alliance was ready to accept a Kurdish demand that one of its leaders, Jalal Talabani, become president. However, he would not commit to other demands, including the expansion of Kurdish autonomous areas south to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Politicians had hoped to convene the new parliament by Sunday. But Ali Faisal, of the Shiite Political Council, said the date was now "postponed" and that a new date had not been set.
"The Kurds are wary about al-Jaafari's nomination to head the government. They are concerned that a strict Islamic government might be formed," al-Faisal said. "Negotiations and dialogue are ongoing."
In another twist, alliance deputy and former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi was to meet Thursday with interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose party won 40 seats in the assembly. It was unclear why the meeting between the two rivals was taking place.