BAGHDAD – Five U.S. soldiers died in a roadside bomb blast Monday as fighting raged in Mosul, a northern city identified by Iraqi and American officials as a key hub for Sunni militants.
Soon after the vehicle blew up, unidentified men sprayed gunfire from a mosque at the rest of the unit, who returned fire, the U.S. Army said in a statement.
Iraqi soldiers stormed the mosque, but the gunmen had fled, according to the statement. The firefight lasted close to an hour, police said.
Thirty-six U.S. soldiers have died this month, up from 23 dead in December, but still a major decline from the beginning of last year when more than 100 deaths were recorded monthly from April through June.
U.S. and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of al-Qaida in Iraq after largely quelling violence from the group in Baghdad, western Anbar province and in Diyala province. In November 2004, Sunni insurgents briefly overran the city. Many veterans of the late dictator Saddam Hussein’s army reside in Mosul and are believed to have lent their expertise to Sunni fighters opposed to the new U.S.-backed political order.
Three thousand U.S. forces are stationed in the region around Mosul, which is home to 1.7 million people and is fraught with tensions between Arabs and Kurds.
In other developments, a man reported dead by the Ministry of Interior on Sunday was later found to have survived and been hospitalized, medical officials said.
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