- The Washington Times - Friday, December 30, 2005

BAGHDAD — Two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq yesterday, putting the American military death toll at 841 so far this year — just five short of the number of lives lost in 2004 despite political progress and dogged efforts to quash the insurgency.

Violence continued unabated yesterday, with at least 17 persons killed in shootings, mortar attacks and a suicide car bombing in Baghdad.

In the most serious incident, police said nine persons were killed in a drive-by shooting — apparently because they were drinking alcohol in public.

Two Iraqi army captains were gunned down in the town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, as they drove home.

In Baghdad, hundreds of cars lined up at gas stations as word spread that Iraq’s largest oil refinery shut down two weeks ago because of threats of insurgent attacks. Nearly three years after the U.S.-led invasion, a fuel crisis again threatens to cripple a country with the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves.

A senior Sudanese diplomat said his country closed its embassy in Baghdad in an effort to win the release of six kidnapped employees — including one diplomat.

“A statement was issued by the Sudanese government to close the embassy in Iraq to win the release of our kidnapped citizens,” Charge d’affaires Mohamed Ahmed Khalil said. He added that the embassy’s 12 employees would leave Monday.

Al Qaeda in Iraq had threatened Thursday to kill five Sudanese today unless the country removed its diplomatic mission from Iraq.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry reported on Dec. 24 that six of its embassy employees were kidnapped — including the mission’s second secretary, Abdel Moneam Mohammad Tom.

The two new deaths of U.S. troops were announced yesterday by the American military. A bomb killed one soldier when it struck his vehicle in Baghdad, while the second soldier was shot and killed in the western city of Fallujah.

Of the 841 Americans who died this year, 64 were killed this month.

The United States hopes that as more Iraqi police and army forces are trained, they will slowly take over responsibility for security from American troops. Much of that expectation hinges on the ability of Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian groups to form a broad-based government that will have the legitimacy to deflate the Sunni Arab-led insurgency.

In Beiji, about 155 miles north of Baghdad and near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, the deteriorating security situation led authorities to shut down Iraq’s largest oil refinery Dec. 18, former oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Uloum said.

Mr. al-Uloum said the facility “is considered one of the vital refineries in Iraq” and produces about 2 million gallons of gas a day.

As word of the shutdown spread through the country, about 1,000 vehicles waited at one of Baghdad’s biggest gas stations, known as the Jindi al-Majhoul, or Unknown Soldier station.

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