- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

BAGHDAD — A roadside bomb killed five U.S. Marines during combat operations in western Iraq, and the bodies of 21 Iraqis were found scattered in separate locations near a town close to the Syrian border considered an insurgent hotbed, officials and witnesses said yesterday.

At least another 11 persons died yesterday in a car bomb attack in a largely Shi’ite neighborhood of Baghdad, shattering the relative calm since a joint Iraqi-U.S. sweep of the capital began three weeks ago, Agence France-Presse reported.

The vehicle, parked near a busy marketplace, exploded shortly before a nighttime curfew in the capital came into effect, an Interior Ministry source said. Seven men, three women and a child were killed in the blast, the source said.

The Marines died Thursday while conducting combat operations near the town of Haqlaniyah, 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, in volatile Anbar province, the military said.

The killings came even as government officials continued efforts to bring members of the Sunni resistance into the political process and end the violence.

“Progress is being made,” said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s spokesman.

“I wouldn’t call it a miracle, but quite a substantial change has taken place” in the past six weeks, spokesman Laith Kubba told The Washington Times.

Mr. Kubba said 20 Sunni Salafi leaders, traditionally anti-Western and linked to the insurgency, had met recently with the prime minister and renounced the use of violence.

“Every week we are in a better position than the week before,” Mr. Kubba said.

He said he had no knowledge of a negotiating session scheduled this weekend between Iraqi insurgents and government officials.

But a source with access to American intelligence reports said the session — first reported by The Times — was still on.

There are several Sunni insurgent factions operating in Iraq, and their unity may be cracking. Those moving into the political process, Mr. Kubba said, had been labelled heretics by fundamental Islamists and now have “a vested interest in uncovering and fighting the rest of these groups.”

A U.S. soldier died Thursday of non-combat injuries near Tuz Khormato, about 130 miles north of Baghdad, the military said, bringing to 1,689 the number of U.S. soldiers who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Twelve other U.S. soldiers were wounded yesterday in two separate suicide car bomb attacks, one between Beiji and Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, and another in the northern city of Mosul yesterday, said the military.

Twelve of the dead Iraqis found in Anbar province had their hands tied behind their backs and were wearing civilian clothes, witnesses said.

They were found near Jabab, a small village about 19 miles east of Qaim, according to witnesses, including an Associated Press reporter. It was not clear when they were killed.

Another nine bodies were found near Qaim outside the village of Fosfat, also in civilian clothes and with civilian ID cards.

Staff writer Sharon Behn in Washington contributed to this report.

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