- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2007

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military reported yesterday that seven American soldiers were killed in the Baghdad area during the past two days as militants fought back against a security plan in its eighth week. An Army helicopter went down south of the capital, injuring four, after an Iraqi official said it was fired on by insurgents.

Four British soldiers — two of them women — died yesterday in an ambush that Prime Minister Tony Blair called an “act of terrorism,” suggesting it may have been carried out by elements linked to Iran but stopping short of blaming the government.

Four of the U.S. soldiers died Wednesday in two roadside-bomb explosions in southern Baghdad and north of the capital, while a fifth was killed by small-arms fire in the eastern part of the city. Two other soldiers were killed by small-arms fire on Tuesday — one in eastern Baghdad and another on foot patrol in the southern outskirts of the capital.

An Iraqi army official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said the helicopter, carrying nine persons, came under fire from anti-aircraft guns near the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Latifiyah, 20 miles south of Baghdad.

It was the ninth U.S. helicopter to go down in Iraq this year.

The deadly attack against the British patrol in southern Iraq cast a shadow over celebrations marking the return of 15 British sailors and marines seized by Iran two weeks ago in disputed waters of the Persian Gulf.

“Just as we rejoice at the return of our 15 service personnel. so today we are also grieving and mourning for the loss of our soldiers in Basra, who were killed as the result of a terrorist act,” Mr. Blair said.

The British patrol struck a roadside bomb and was hit by small-arms fire early yesterday in the southern city of Basra, British military spokeswoman Capt. Katie Brown said. A civilian interpreter was also killed, and a fifth British soldier in the unit was seriously wounded.

Mr. Blair raised the possibility that Iranian-linked fighters may have sprung the ambush, although he conceded it was too early to directly accuse Tehran.

“Now it is far too early to say that the particular terrorist act that killed our forces was an act committed by terrorists that were backed by any elements of the Iranian regime, so I make no allegation in respect of that particular incident,” Mr. Blair said.

He added, however, “This is maybe the right moment to reflect on our relationship with Iran.”

The latest casualties raised to 140 the number of British forces to die in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.

At least 49 persons were killed across Iraq yesterday, including 20 men whose bullet-riddled bodies were brought to a hospital in Baqouba a day after they were abducted at an illegal checkpoint.

Police also found the body of a famous TV anchor from the Saddam Hussein era who was kidnapped two days ago in western Baghdad. A car bomb struck a Sunni television station in the same neighborhood, killing the assistant director and wounding 12 others, according to the Iraqi Islamic Party, which owns the station.

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