Seven U.S. servicemembers killed in Iraq
An explosion of insurgent violence killed seven U.S. servicemembers in Iraq over the weekend even as the Shiite-dominated parliament reached out Sunday to Sunni Arabs, approving four more of them to serve as government ministers.
More than 300 people, including American forces, have been killed in a torrent of insurgent attacks since Iraq's Cabinet was sworn in April 28 with seven positions undecided.
Parliament approved all six of the nominees placed before it Sunday by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. But one of the four Sunnis, the man tapped as human rights minister, rejected the post on the grounds of tokenism, tarnishing the Shiite premier's bid to include the disaffected minority believed to be driving Iraq's deadly insurgency.
Three of the U.S. victims were soldiers killed Sunday in bombings in central Iraq, the U.S. command said. One soldier was killed and a second was wounded during an attack on a patrol near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad. Two others died in an explosion near Khaldiyah, 75 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.
On Saturday, three U.S. Marines and a sailor were killed in fighting with insurgents in western Iraq, some of whom fought from inside a hospital, the military said.
The battle, in which an unspecified number of insurgents were killed, began in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, when U.S. forces responding to small arms fire near the Haditha Dam and saw Iraqi civilians running from Haditha Hospital, the military said.
The soldiers were then attacked by a suicide car bomb that destroyed a nearby building and set fire to the hospital. Insurgents inside the hospital set off a roadside bomb and fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades at the U.S. forces.
After the fight, Marines searched the hospital and found fortified firing positions with sandbagged windows.
At least 1,599 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
U.S. and Iraqi forces hit back over the weekend, capturing 109 suspected insurgents and killing six in a series of raids, the U.S. military said. Among those captured was an unidentified senior military officer in Saddam's government.
The spiking violence ！ including roadside bombs and suicide attacks ！ has raised concern in Washington, where Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said only a quarter of the 168,000 Iraqi forces being trained and equipped by the U.S.-led coalition "are able and willing to take on the insurgents." Political infighting presented as big a challenge, he told ABC's "This Week" TV program.
Levin said if Iraqis fail to write a constitution, elect a new government and develop reliable security forces by early next year, Washington will have to rethink its commitment to Iraq. Sen. Chuck Hagel (news, bio, voting record), a Nebraska Republican and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agreed.
Iraqi politicians spent the first three months after historic elections Jan. 30 trying to form a Cabinet, but al-Jaafari argued Sunday the delay was necessary to ensure those selected had broad support.
"The need to represent all sectors of Iraq was the reason for the delay," he told reporters after the parliament vote. "Time was not spent in vain."
Less than half of parliament ！ 112 of the 115 lawmakers present ！ approved al-Jaafari's nominations. The poor showing underscored the persistent ethnic and religious tensions that have hampered the new government.
President Jalal Talabani and his two vice presidents signed off on the names before they were submitted to the 275-member National Assembly for a vote. The new ministers were expected to be sworn in within days.
When complete, the government was to include 17 Shiite ministers, eight Kurds, six Sunnis and a Christian. Three deputy premiers also have been named ！ one each for the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, with the fourth held open for a woman.
The defense ministry went to Saadoun al-Duleimi, a former lieutenant colonel in Saddam Hussein's General Security Directorate who left Iraq in 1984 and lived in exile in Saudi Arabia until Saddam's fall in April 2003. A moderate, he comes from a powerful Sunni tribe in Anbar province, the homeland of the insurgency.
The oil ministry was returned to Ibrahim al-Uloum, a Shiite who was accused of inexperience when he held the post in the first U.S.-picked Cabinet formed in the early months after the American-led invasion toppled Saddam.
Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shibli said he could not accept his appointment as human rights minister, which would have brought the total number of Sunnis in the Cabinet to seven.
"Concentrating on sectarian identities leads to divisions in the society and state, and for that reason I respectfully decline the post," al-Shibli said at a news conference.
The Kurdish environment minister, Narmin Othman, will act as human rights minister until a replacement is found, al-Jaafari's aides said.
The other nominees were Mihsin Shlash, a Shiite, electricity minister; Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, industry minister; and Abed Mutlak al-Jiburi, a Sunni, a deputy prime minister.
Al-Jaafari pledged Sunday to take "all necessary measures" to restore security and said the government could impose martial law, if necessary.
The parliamentary vote came a day after two explosives-laden cars plowed into an American security company convoy in Baghdad, killing at least 22 people ！ including two Americans. At least 36 Iraqis, three Americans, an Australian and an Icelander were injured in the attack, the U.S. Embassy said.
The two dead Americans were employed by CTU Consulting, a Fayetteville, N.C.-based security consultancy. The company identified them as Brandon Thomas and Todd Venette, but did not give their hometowns.
Al-Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it detonated a booby-trapped car as a "convoy of CIA passed," according to a statement posted Sunday on a militant Web site. The authenticity of the claim could not be verified.
In other violence Sunday:
_ Four Iraqis were killed in two roadside bombings and gunfire in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. One insurgent was also killed and another wounded in a clash with a U.S.-Iraqi patrol.
_ Gunmen shot and killed Zoba Yass, a senior official in Iraq's Transportation Ministry, and his driver in southern Baghdad, police and transportation officials said.
_ A car bomb exploded near an American patrol north of Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. No military casualties were reported, but Beiji Hospital officials said a civilian motorist was injured.