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Bomb claims 2 U.S. soldiers

Colin McMahon Chicago Tribune

BAGHDAD, Iraq – A roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded four others Monday in southwestern Baghdad, the second time in less than a week that insurgents have blown up an armored Bradley Fighting Vehicle. The explosion came hours after gunmen killed Baghdad’s deputy police chief.

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, said a blast Sunday that killed eight Ukrainian soldiers and a Kazakh soldier may have been an attack and not, as initially believed, an accident. Departing President Leonid Kuchma ordered officials in Kiev to speed up the planned pullout of Ukraine’s 1,650 troops from Iraq.

Homemade bombs are a favorite weapon of insurgents seeking to force U.S.-led troops out of Iraq. They work best against civilian cars and soft-skin military vehicles, not against sophisticated armor such as the Bradley, which is built to withstand artillery rounds on a battlefield.

But in the past few weeks, guerrillas have been pouring more explosives into their bombs. On Thursday what the military calls an improvised explosive device, or IED, destroyed a Bradley on patrol in Baghdad. All seven soldiers inside died.

“The IED challenge is not purely going to be met with armored vehicles,” Brig. Gen. David Rodriguez said during a Pentagon briefing last week. “The way we’re going to overcome that is a multipronged effort on tactics, techniques, procedures, intelligence.”

A top U.S. general in Baghdad said his troops destroy or defuse one roadside bomb for every one that goes off. Senior officers cite improved technology to spot the bombs, which often are hidden in trash, discarded cans or cartons or stuffed into dead animals. The military also reports getting more tips from average Iraqis.

But the insurgents, military officials acknowledge, show a consistent ability to adapt to what U.S.-led forces do well. Making fewer roadside bombs but making them more lethal may be another case of that, officials said.

In other attacks Monday, a suicide bomber driving a car painted to look like a police vehicle attacked a police station in Baghdad, killing at least four officers and wounding 10. The blast came while officers were changing shifts, police and witnesses said.

Three Iraqi soldiers were killed and six wounded by a roadside bomb during a joint patrol with U.S. forces in the northern city of Mosul. There were no U.S. casualties. A roadside bomb also killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded two Americans in Samarra.

The attack on Baghdad’s deputy police chief was the latest in a string of assassinations of Iraqi governmental, electoral and security officials. The most prominent victim of late was Ali al-Haidari, the governor of Baghdad, who was slain with six bodyguards Jan. 4.

Seen as part of an intimidation campaign aimed at disrupting national elections scheduled for Jan. 30, the killings have stretched from Mosul in the north down through Baghdad and as far south as Latifiyah, about 15 miles south of the capital.

Brig. Amer Ali Nayef and his son, Lt. Khalid Amer, also a police officer, were killed when gunmen firing machine guns pulled up next to their car as the two were driving to work in Baghdad’s Dora district, an Interior Ministry spokesman told the Associated Press.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility.

Another insurgent group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, said it was behind the explosion Sunday that killed eight Ukrainian soldiers and wounded six more in Iraq’s central Wasit region.

Witnesses reported seeing a car whose occupants apparently were watching the soldiers shortly before the blast, raising the possibility that the explosion could have been set off by remote control.

The explosion occurred after the Ukrainian and Kazakh soldiers, who serve under Polish command, unloaded 35 bombs that had been found at a military base and were to be defused.

Ukraine’s 1,650 troops make up the fourth-largest contingent in the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. Kuchma previously expressed intentions to withdraw this year, but his order issued Monday apparently speeds up the timetable.

Though Kuchma is expected to turn over the presidency within days to Viktor Yushchenko, the change in leadership is unlikely to change the decision. As a presidential candidate, Yushchenko also promised a withdrawal.

At a Baghdad news conference, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said the government had captured 147 suspected insurgents in Iraq, including the new leader of the group Muhammad’s Army.

And a U.S. spokesman denied that American soldiers killed five civilians during the weekend after a roadside bomb explosion.

Lt. Col. James Hutton told the AP the bombing apparently targeted American soldiers but instead killed a civilian and two men wearing Iraqi police uniforms. He said coalition troops then came under small-arms fire that killed two Iraqi civilians.

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