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5 US soldiers killed in suicide bombing in Baghdad

A suicide bomber killed five US soldiers as they chatted with shop owners while on a foot patrol in central Baghdad on Monday, the deadliest attack on American forces in the heavily fortified capital in more than eight months.

world Updated: Mar 11, 2008 09:38 IST

A suicide bomber killed five US soldiers as they chatted with shop owners while on a foot patrol in central Baghdad on Monday, the deadliest attack on American forces in the heavily fortified capital in more than eight months.

The bombing, just four days after nearly simultaneous blasts killed scores of people in a vibrant Shiite commercial district, again showed the insurgents' ability to strike inside a capital secured by hundreds of security checkpoints, US-funded neighborhood watch groups and hundreds of miles of blast walls that surround buildings and cordon off districts.

The military insists that recent attacks do not point to a growing trend in violence, and continues to tout the security gains achieved over the past year.

At any rate, the push over the past six months to place U.S. bases inside neighborhoods and get soldiers out of their armored vehicles increases the Americans' vulnerability to attacks. While the face-to-face contact from foot patrols builds goodwill, it also gives suicide bombers, who often slip past security vehicle checkpoints by walking, better access to striking soldiers. On Monday, the soldiers were walking in a shopping district of the predominantly Sunni Mansour neighborhood when a man in his 30s detonated his explosives about 30 feet (9 meters) away, said a police officer who witnessed the attack. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media. Four of the soldiers died at the scene, and the fifth died later from wounds, the military said. Three other American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were also wounded in the attack, which military spokesman Maj. Mark Cheadle said was "was reported to us as a suicide bomber."

Iraqi police said two civilians were also killed. It was the deadliest attack against the U.S. military since Jan. 28, when five soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul.

The last time five soldiers were killed in a single attack in the capital was June 28, 2007, when insurgents launched a coordinated attack on a combat patrol, detonating a roadside bomb, then firing guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Mansour, the scene of Monday's attack, was a hotbed for al-Qaida in Iraq as recently as a year ago, until many Sunni militants switched sides to join U.S. forces against the terror group. According to military figures, attacks in Baghdad are down 75 percent from June 2007 until late February thanks in part to Sunnis turning against al-Qaida, the Americans increasing troop levels and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's ordering his militia to observe a cease-fire.

Last month, Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, a top U.S. military official tasked with restoring security to Baghdad, said nearly 80 percent of the capital's districts were considered free of organized extremist activity.

Monday's suicide bombing in Baghdad was one of several deadly al-Qaida-signature attacks across the country.

Earlier in the day, a female suicide bomber killed a US-backed Sunni leader who had formed a group to fight against al-Qaida insurgents in central Iraq.

The man's guards ushered the bomber into his home without searching her.

The woman had come to visit Sheik Thaeir Ghadhban al-Karkhi in a village in restive Diyala province the day before, begging for his help to find her kidnapped husband, said al-Karkhi's brother, Duraid Mahmoud.

Female relatives searched her on the first visit, but when she returned the following day, they let her in without checking for weapons, said Mahmoud.

Once inside al-Karkhi's home, she blew herself up, killing the sheik and three others _ including his 5-year-old niece and his 24-year-old cousin, said Mahmoud and provincial police. "She came back this morning and nobody checked her. She had an appointment with the sheik and the guards told her to go and knock on his door," said Mahmoud, who witnessed the attack. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But al-Qaida in Iraq has been targeting fellow Sunni Arabs who have taken up arms against the militants and joined the so-called Awakening Councils like the one al-Karkhi led.

In the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, a rare suicide car bombing killed at least two people and wounded more than a dozen, hospital officials said.

Provincial Gov. Dana Ahmed Majid said the car bomb exploded near concrete blast barriers surrounding the Sulaimaniyah Palace hotel, which is frequented by foreign contractors and U.S. military officials.

In southern Iraq, police found the bullet-riddled body of Basra's only neurologist a day after he was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen.

Dr. Khalid Nasir al-Miyahi had received a phone call Sunday night from someone asking him to return to his clinic for an urgent medical issue, according to a colleague who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. When his family did not hear from him hours later, they notified police, the colleague said. According to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry released earlier this year, 618 medical employees, including 132 doctors, as well as medics and other health care workers, have been killed nationwide since 2003. Professionals from many fields have been targeted in Iraq's violence, perhaps part of attacks on former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other medical personnel are believed to have fled to Iraq's northern autonomous Kurdistan region and neighboring countries.

"The government is doing nothing to protect doctors and other qualified figures who are exposed to danger," said Jassim Joumaa of the Basra doctors' union.

Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub in Baghdad and Yahya Barzanji in Sulaimaniyah contributed to this report.