March 23, 2008 in Nation/World

Bomb kills 3 U.S. soldiers; toll in Iraq nearing 4,000

Robert H. Reid Associated Press
Associated Press photo

Awakening council members grieve for their six comrades who were killed in a U.S. airstrike near Samarra, Iraq, on Saturday. Associated Press
(Full-size photo)

BAGHDAD – A roadside bomb killed three American soldiers north of Baghdad on Saturday, pushing the U.S. death toll in the five-year conflict to nearly 4,000.

Also Saturday, Iraqi authorities reported that a U.S. airstrike north of the capital killed six members of a U.S.-backed Sunni group – straining relations with America’s new allies in the fight against al-Qaida.

Two Iraqi civilians also died in the roadside bombing, which occurred as the Americans were patrolling an area northwest of the capital, the U.S. military said in a statement.

Two of the soldiers were killed in the blast and the third died of wounds, the statement said. The soldiers were assigned to Multinational Division-Baghdad, the statement said, but gave no further details.

The latest deaths brought to 3,996 the number of U.S. service members and Pentagon civilians who have died since the war began on March 20, 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Rocket or mortar fire killed one U.S. soldier and wounded four others Friday south of Baghdad, the military said.

With the war entering its sixth year, President Bush paid tribute Saturday to America’s fallen service members, saying in his weekly radio address that they will “live on in the memory of the nation they helped defend.”

U.S. officials have pointed to a number of positive signs, including a 60 percent drop in violence since Bush ordered 30,000 U.S. reinforcements to Iraq early last year. Iraqis have also made some limited progress in power-sharing deals among rival Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities.

However, U.S. military commanders have been careful to point out that security gains are fragile and that major violence could erupt abruptly.

Much of the progress has been due to a move by thousands of Sunnis to abandon the insurgency and join pro-U.S. defense groups – known as “awakening councils.”

On Saturday, a U.S. attack helicopter fired on two checkpoints manned by U.S.-allied Sunni fighters near Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, killing six and injuring two, Iraqi police said.

The U.S. military said an AH-64 Apache helicopter fired on the positions after five people were “spotted conducting suspicious terrorist activity” in an area notorious for roadside bombs.

“Initial reports suggested the attack may have been a Sons of Iraq checkpoint,” the military said, using a term for the armed U.S.-backed groups. “The incident is currently under a joint Iraqi-Coalition Force investigation.”

AP Television News footage of the aftermath showed awakening council members loading bodies into a pickup. Their faces were masked and they wore bright yellow vests – apparently to identify themselves for U.S. forces as members of friendly groups.

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