msnbc.com news services
updated 3/16/2005 3:06:59 AM ET 2005-03-16T08:06:59

A suicide car bomber attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Baqouba northeast of Baghdad on Wednesday, killing at least three Iraqi soldiers, police officers said.

Five soldiers and three civilians were wounded, they said, adding that the soldiers were taken to a U.S. base for treatment.

Insurgents trying to overthrow Iraq’s U.S.-backed government are increasingly targeting checkpoints, often with suicide attacks.

U.S. and Iraqi officers say this shows progress in the battle against the insurgency because guerrillas are finding it harder to attack other targets.

Italy to pull out troops
Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition came under pressure as Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi on Tuesday announced plans to withdraw the country’s 3,000 troops as the Iraqis slowly take control, a move that could complicate efforts to keep the peace.

Berlusconi’s remarks represented the first time a country has connected a troop withdrawal to the ability of Iraqis to take control over their security.

“Starting with the month of September, we would like to proceed with a gradual reduction of our soldiers,” Berlusconi said on a state TV talk show that lasted into early Wednesday.

Withdrawing Italian troops “will depend on the capability of the Iraqi government to equip itself with adequate police and security forces” to establish “acceptable” security levels, the premier said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asked to comment on Berlusconi's statement, was careful to praise Italy’s “steadfast” cooperation.

“I am quite certain ... any decisions that the Italians make about their forces will be fully coordinated in a way that does not put (U.S.) forces at risk,” Rice said in New Delhi, where she was meeting with Indian Foreign Minister Natwar Singh.

The U.S.-led war in Iraq is highly unpopular in Italy, but until recent days Berlusconi had refused to discuss pulling out any Italian troops. Except for the United States, only Britain has more troops committed to Iraq.

Violence continues unabated
An insurgent car bomb attack near Baghdad airport killed a U.S. soldier and wounded another six, the military said Tuesday.

Although it was unclear if it was the same attack, Iraqi police said a car bomb in the same area — and at the same time — targeted a U.S. military convoy and killed four civilians and wounded another seven.

When U.S. forces arrived to evacuate the injured, another car bomb exploded, wounding more troops. One Humvee was destroyed and two civilian cars were in flames, witnesses said.

A U.S. military spokesman said he was checking into that report.

In other violence announced Tuesday:

  • A suicide car bomb exploded in northeastern Baghdad, killing a child and wounding at least four people, including a police officer, police Col. Muhanad Sadoun said. The bomber was trying to hit a patrol of traffic police but crashed into a tree, Sadoun said.
  • In Mosul, the U.S. military said six insurgents were killed and four were injured Monday in clashes with U.S. and Iraqi forces.
  • A U.S. Marine with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force died Monday in Anbar, a troubled province that has been a hotbed of guerrilla activity and includes the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Qaim, officials said. At least 1,516 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
  • In northern Iraq, insurgents blew up an oil pipeline connecting the Kirkuk fields with a refinery in Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, an official in the Northern Oil Co. said. The pipeline is used only for domestic deliveries, the official said on condition of anonymity. He did not have details on the extent of the damage.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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