- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

BAGHDAD — Five U.S. troops died in weekend attacks, pushing the death toll past 100 in the deadliest month for American forces since December, the military said yesterday as a wave of violence battered Iraqi civilians including a suicide bombing at a Shi’ite funeral.

The attack against the mourners north of Baghdad — claiming more than 30 lives — was the deadliest in a series of bombings and shootings that killed at least 102 persons nationwide.

All but one of the latest U.S. deaths occurred in Baghdad, where a nearly 11-week security crackdown has put thousands of additional American soldiers on the streets — making them targets for both Shi’ite and Sunni extremists.

In a statement yesterday, the U.S. command said three American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb the previous day in eastern Baghdad. Another U.S. soldier was killed Saturday by small arms fire in the same area, the military said.

A Marine died in combat Sunday in Anbar province, a Sunni insurgent stronghold west of the capital, the military said.

The deaths brought the number of American service members killed in Iraq during April to 104 — eight fewer than December’s toll of 112 and the sixth-highest figure for a single month since the war started in March 2003.

Police said 32 persons were killed and 63 wounded when a suicide bomber struck the Shi’ite funeral in Khalis, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. The bomber walked into a tent filled with mourners and detonated a belt of explosives hidden beneath his clothes, police said.

Four days ago, a suicide car bomber killed 10 Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint in Khalis, a mostly Shi’ite town in a predominantly Sunni area. Al Qaeda in Iraq took responsibility.

Elsewhere, a tanker truck exploded near a restaurant just west of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, killing four persons and wounding six, police said.

The attack occurred in an area where U.S.-backed Sunni sheiks and tribal leaders have begun turning against al Qaeda, forming the Anbar Salvation Council to drive religious extremists and foreign fighters from their area.

That has helped curb violence in Ramadi, once the most dangerous city in Iraq, but has triggered clashes for control of the vast desert area that borders Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Meanwhile a senior Iranian envoy, Ali Larijani, met yesterday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and offered Iranian support for the Iraqi government, saying, “We see that Iraq’s territories and unity must be preserved.”

As a direct envoy from Iran’s ruling clerics, Mr. Larijani is considered more influential than Iranian Cabinet ministers who have visited Iraq since the fall of Saddam. Mr. Larijani also represents Iran’s theocracy in other highly sensitive talks, including Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West.

On Sunday, Iran agreed to join a regional conference in Egypt on the future of Iraq this week.