- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

BAGHDAD — Bomb blasts killed six Marines in western Iraq, and U.S. forces killed 29 militants in U.S. offensives aimed at uprooting al Qaeda insurgents ahead of the country’s vote on a new constitution, the military said yesterday.

The American deaths brought to 1,950 the number of U.S. troops who have died since the beginning of the war in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In southern Iraq, British troops detained 12 militiamen loyal to a radical Shi’ite cleric in the city of Basra, accusing them of carrying out recent attacks on British and U.S. troops, officials said yesterday.

Eight days before Iraqis were to go to the polls to approve or reject the new constitution, officials were still waiting to get copies of the document to pass out to voters. Distribution began in a few Baghdad neighborhoods, but did not appear to have begun elsewhere.

Some shopkeepers in Baghdad refused to hand out the document and some people refused to take it, fearing reprisals by militants determined to wreck the crucial Oct. 15 referendum.

“Some people are excited to take it. Others are refusing to touch it,” said Mohammed Ali, a shopkeeper in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Saydiya who handed out about 150 copies yesterday.

“I know some merchants who have refused to accept copies for distribution because they fear retaliation by the insurgents,” Mr. Ali said in an interview at his shop.

Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni-led insurgent groups have started a wave of violence in the past two weeks that has killed more than 290 people, many of them Shi’ites. Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi has declared war on Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim majority.

The U.S. military is waging two large offensives in western Iraq — operations “Iron Fist” and “River Gate” — to oust al Qaeda in Iraqi militants from a half-dozen towns along the Euphrates River valley.

Two Marines were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb that hit their patrol outside the town of Qaim, the region near the Syrian border where Iron Fist is being waged, the military said.

Their deaths bring to six the number of U.S. troops killed in Iron Fist and River Gate, started Oct. 1 and Tuesday, respectively.

Apart from the offensives, four Marines were killed Thursday by a roadside bomb in Karmah, near the town of Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, the military said.

In Syria, President Bashar Assad was quoted yesterday as saying that his country wants to close its border with Iraq to Islamic militants, but U.S. troops were doing nothing on the other side to stop the flow of fighters.

“They have no patrols at the border, not a single American or Iraqi on their side of the border,” Mr. Assad told the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat. “We cannot control the border from one side.”

Mr. Assad also said the U.S. forces in Iraq want Syria’s help in “getting out of the political predicament they’re in.”

“But their blunders are so huge I cannot imagine that Syria, or anyone else, could help them,” Mr. Assad said in the interview.

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