updated 11/15/2006 10:57:31 AM ET 2006-11-15T15:57:31

Three U.S. soldiers and three U.S. Marines were killed during combat in Iraq, the military said Wednesday.

The announcement came after Iraqi officials said about 70 of the people abducted in a brazen raid on the offices of the Higher Education Ministry have been released. It remained unclear how many remained captive.

Dozens of people were taken Tuesday from the central Baghdad office that handles academic grants and exchanges, with the men handcuffed and loaded aboard about 20 pickup trucks by gunmen dressed in the uniforms of Interior Ministry commandos.

4 U.S. troops killed in volatile Anbar province
One U.S. soldier assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division, of the Army, and the three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 7, died Tuesday from wounds sustained in "enemy action while operating in Anbar Province," the insurgent stronghold in western Iraq, the statement said.

At 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, two soldiers with the Army's Multinational Division died when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb in northwest Baghdad while conducting combat operations, the military said.

The deaths raised to 2,858 the number of American forces who have died since the U.S. invasion in March 2003. So far this month, 40 American service members have been killed or died in Iraq.

The names of the soldiers and Marines who died Tuesday were withheld pending the notification of their relatives.

Unclear the precise number of kidnap victims
Government ministries have given wildly varying figures on the number of kidnap victims in Tuesday's assault, with reports ranging from a high of about 150 to a low of 40 to 50.

"Most of the hostages were freed, but that is not enough for us. We will chase those who did this ugly criminal act," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said, as he met professors and students at Baghdad University to show of support for the country's educational institutions. "We regret what happened yesterday. The government's reaction was strong."

Education Ministry spokesman Basil al-Khatib said 40 employees were released Tuesday and another 32 were freed Wednesday.

Higher Education Minister Abed Theyab said he had suspended participation in the government until all the kidnap victims were released.

Some Iraqis said the kidnappers were dressed in new digitally marked uniforms for the Interior Ministry forces that are made in the United States. But U.S. Maj. Gen. Joseph F. Fil Jr., commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division, which took control of security operations in Baghdad on Wednesday from the 4th Infantry Division, denied that.

"We don't know what uniforms they had on. ... We are virtually certain they are not those uniforms. Those are hard to get hold of, as they should be. We do not believe they were those new digital uniforms," Fil said.

Such uniforms are designed to overcome the persistent problem in Iraq of militia and death squad members using stolen or counterfeit Interior Ministry uniforms to gain access to commit crimes and killings.

Deadly attacks
Elsewhere, a series of attacks killed at least 20 Iraqis, including two journalists, and wounded 47 on Wednesday.

The day's deadliest attack involved a car bomb that killed at least 11 people and wounded at least 32 near a gasoline station in central Baghdad's Bab Shargi area, police Lt. Bilal Ali said.

The Higher Education Ministry said the confusion over the number of kidnap victims arose out of the difficulties in determining just how many employees, guards and visitors were in the building during the assault.

Police Lt. Mohammed Kheyoun said "about 15 to 20 persons are still held by the kidnappers. The search for them is under way, and we hope that we will find them in suspected areas in eastern Baghdad."

Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera quoted Maha Abdullah, a woman described as a sister of one of the captives, as saying he and at least 10 other people remained in custody.

"The government's news that most of them were released is false," Abdullah said.

Journalists gunned down
The two Iraqi journalists who were gunned down died in northern Iraq.

In Mosul, gunmen intercepted the car of journalist Fadia Mohammed al-Taie, killing her and her driver, police said. Al-Taie worked as a reporter for the independent weekly newspaper al-Massar.

In Baqouba, Luma al-Karkhi, who worked for the independent weekly al-Dustor, was shot and killed while on her way to work.

With the slayings of al-Taie and al-Karkhi, at least 91 journalists have been killed in Iraq since hostilities began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count based on statistics kept by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Also, 36 other media employees, including drivers, interpreters and guards, have been killed -- all of them Iraqi except for one Lebanese.

In other violence Wednesday:

  • A suicide bomber drove his car into a tent where a funeral was being held in the mostly Sunni-Arab neighborhood of Dora in southern Baghdad, killing three people and wounding 15.
  • A former member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party was gunned down outside his home in the city of Kut.
  • Two Shiites were killed by gunmen who set fire to their home in southern Baghdad.
  • In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, gunmen killed a police officer in a drive-by shooting as he was heading to work.
  • Three bodies, blindfolded with their hands and legs tied, were found by police in eastern Baghdad.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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