- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

11:56 a.m.

BAGHDAD — An al Qaeda-linked group posted a Web statement today claiming responsibility for a suicide truck bombing that killed nine U.S. paratroopers and wounded 20 in the worst attack on American ground forces in Iraq in more than a year.

The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group of Sunni militants that includes al Qaeda in Iraq, said it was behind yesterday’s attack on a U.S. patrol base in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad — an area that has seen violence spike since American troops surged into the capital to halt violence there.

The victims were all members of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, said a spokesman for the Fort Bragg, N.C.-based unit. It was the highest number of casualties for the division since the war began, Maj. Tom Earnhardt said.

In its Web posting today, the Islamic State of Iraq put the number of Americans killed at 30.

In telephone interviews, residents of the Ameen area south of Baqouba today described what they believed was the same attack that killed the nine soldiers, although the U.S. military did not confirm the accounts. They spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety.

The residents said gunmen first fired on American snipers at a U.S. base housed in an old Iraqi primary school, then a suicide car bomb rammed a checkpoint at the school’s entrance, breaking through blast walls and other fortifications. The first explosion left a path for a second suicide vehicle, a truck, to approach the building, the witnesses said.

Several American soldiers were caught beneath the building as it collapsed in the explosion, the residents said.

It was single deadliest attack on ground forces since Dec. 1, 2005, when a roadside bomb killed 10 Marines and wounded 11 on a foot patrol near Fallujah. Twelve soldiers died when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Diyala on Jan. 20. The military said it might have been shot down, but the investigation is ongoing.

The use of a suicide bomber in a direct assault against U.S. forces is unusual. Militants, seeking to avoid American firepower, have mostly used hit-and-run ambushes, roadside bombs or mortars on U.S. troops.

On Feb. 19, insurgents struck a U.S. combat post in Tarmiyah, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, killing two soldiers and wounding 17 in what the military called a “coordinated attack.” It began with a suicide car bombing followed by gunfire on soldiers pinned down in a former Iraqi police station where fuel storage tanks were set ablaze by the blast.

Another U.S. soldier was also killed yesterday in a roadside bombing in Diyala, the military said. A British soldier was also shot to death while on patrol in the southern city of Basra, officials said.

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