The U.S. military on Friday announced the deaths of seven more American troops in combat, including four in Anbar province, the Sunni stronghold where U.S. officials say a tribal revolt against al-Qaida in Iraq has brought dramatic improvements in security.
Two of Iraq’s top political leaders, meanwhile, raised objections to the planned execution of three former Saddam Hussein lieutenants convicted of massacring Kurds in the late 1980s.
A U.S. statement said four Marines assigned to Multinational Force-West were killed Thursday in combat in Anbar, but gave no further details.
Three soldiers from the Army’s Task Force Lightning died Thursday when a bomb exploded near their vehicle in Ninevah, a northern province that includes Iraq’s third-largest city Mosul, the military also said.
Those deaths raised to at least 3,760 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Britain’s Defense Ministry also announced Friday that a British soldier was killed two days earlier, but news of the death was kept secret for security reasons. The British statement did not say how or where the soldier died.
However, the British news agency Press Association it was believed the soldier was killed in central Iraq rather than the south where most of Britain’s 5,500 soldiers are based. British soldiers serve in a U.S.-run special operations command that hunts al-Qaida in Iraq leaders in central Iraq.
A total of 169 British military or civilian employees have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, according to the ministry.
The U.S. statement did not say where the Marines were killed in Anbar, a vast, mostly desert province that extends from the western outskirts of Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Officers: Anbar far from secure
On Monday, President Bush declared Anbar “one of the safest places in Iraq” after many Sunni tribal sheiks broke with al-Qaida in Iraq and threw their support to U.S. efforts to pacify the province.
U.S. officers say Anbar is far from secure. But the top U.S. commander, Gen. David Petraeus, is expected to point to a dramatic drop in violence there when he reports to Congress next week on the situation in Iraq after this year’s troop buildup.
Petraeus is expected to tell lawmakers he wants to maintain the troop buildup here until next spring to bolster the security gains achieved in Anbar and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in Anbar, insurgents blew up two suspension bridges on the main highway leading to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, a police intelligence officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
The blasts against the Anbar bridges occurred about dawn in a sparsely populated area about 100 miles west of Baghdad, according to the National Iraqi News Agency, quoting an unidentified official of the highway patrol.
The intelligence officer said the attacks occurred near a spot where the road forks — with one part heading to Saudi Arabia and the other to Jordan. He said five bridges have been hit by insurgents in Anbar so far this year.
U.S. officials have been pressing Iraq’s Shiite-led government to step up financial support to Anbar to lure disaffected Sunnis away from the insurgency.
Funds for new Anbar jobs
The Iraqi government announced Thursday it was sending $70 million to Anbar to create thousands of new jobs. Another $50 million was allocated to compensate citizens who suffered from military operations.
U.S. officials have been urging the Shiite-led government to make political concessions to Sunnis, who took up arms against the U.S. after the collapse of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime.
Earlier this week, an Iraqi appeals court upheld the death sentences imposed against Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan al-Majid — widely known as “Chemical Ali” — former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad al-Tai and Hussein Rashid Mohammed, former deputy director of operations for the Iraqi Armed Forces.
All three were convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in June for their role in the brutal crackdown that killed up to 180,000 Kurdish civilians and guerrillas two decades ago known as “Operation Anfal.”
President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, told reporters al-Tai should be spared the gallows because he carried out orders under threat of death by Saddam and engaged in unofficial contacts with the Kurds during the former regime.
The Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, told CNN the hangings should not proceed until he, Talabani and the Shiite vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, signed off on the executions.
A senior government official said the three signatures were unnecessary, but that the executions could be delayed because of Talabani’s and al-Hashemi’s objections. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the subject is controversial.
U.S. troops conduct raids
Elsewhere, U.S. troops killed three people and detained 18 others during raids against the senior leadership of al-Qaida in Iraq in central and northern parts of the country, the U.S. command said Friday. No further details were released on the raids, which began Thursday night.
Iraqi special forces and their U.S. advisers arrested two suspected al-Qaida in Iraq cell leaders in Azamiyah, a Sunni district of north Baghdad, the command said.
In another operation, U.S. Special Forces and Iraqi troops captured two Shiite extremists, including a brigade commander believed responsible for the deaths of 13 Iraqis in an attack on an apartment house in May, the U.S. said.