- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

BAGHDAD — A suicide car bomber killed seven persons at a green zone checkpoint yesterday, the second attack in two days near the same gate into the district that houses Iraq’s government and the U.S. Embassy, officials said.

Also in Baghdad, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced the U.S. military will have a record-high 150,000 troops in Iraq through the Jan. 30 elections and “a little bit after.”

The blast at the green zone checkpoint killed seven persons and wounded at least 13, said Dr. Hassan AbdelSatar from the Yarmouk Hospital. Police Lt. Rafid Abid said the attack was carried out by a suicide car bomber.

A mushroom-shaped cloud of black smoke rose from the site of the attack, which was near the spot where a bomber struck Monday, killing 13 and injuring 15 persons.

The location is near the Harthiyah gate on the western edge of the zone, which has been targeted repeatedly by bombings and mortar and missile attacks. No U.S. troops were injured in either blast.

The U.S. Embassy and several other missions are located inside the zone, which occupies an area of 4 square miles on the west bank of the Tigris River.

Several of Baghdad’s main arteries dead-end straight into it, cut off by a triple-layered sprawl of concertina wire, concrete blast walls and sandbagged guard towers.

In other violence, the U.S. military said two U.S. Marines from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force based in western Iraq died in combat in Baghdad province Monday, bringing the number of Marines killed to 10 in three days.

Seven other Marines died in action Sunday in Anbar province, where the battleground cities of Fallujah and Ramadi are located, and another was killed Saturday. The military provided no details on their deaths.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. troop numbers will rise from 138,000 to 150,000 before next month’s elections. “Our troop levels will be at 150,000 for the elections and a little bit after,” Gen. Myers said.

Asked when exactly the troops would pull out, he responded: “That will be determined by events on the ground.”

The previous high for the U.S. force in Iraq was 148,000 on May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations were over and most soldiers thought the war had been won.

The initial invasion force included thousands of sailors on ships in the Persian Gulf and other waters, plus tens of thousands of troops in Kuwait and other surrounding countries.

Poland said yesterday its 2,400-member contingent in Iraq will be cut to 1,700 in the month after the vote, as part of long-standing plans to reduce its presence.

Gen. Myers predicted that last month’s U.S.-led offensive to retake the western militant stronghold of Fallujah would undercut the insurgency by denying guerrillas a sanctuary from which they could stage attacks with relative impunity.

“They will try to move to other locations, but I don’t think they are going to find any location as satisfactory as Fallujah was for their operational planning and facilitation of what they were doing,” he said.

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