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U.S. soldier killed in Iraq on Memorial Day

An American soldier was killed Monday in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad, the military said, a grim Memorial Day reminder of the dangers facing the troops despite recent security gains in Iraq.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An American soldier was killed Monday in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad, the military said, a grim Memorial Day reminder of the dangers facing the troops despite recent security gains in Iraq.

Two other soldiers were wounded in the blast in Salahuddin province, a mainly Sunni area north of Baghdad, according to a statement.

The military also said another U.S. soldier had died of a non-combat related cause on Saturday. The death was announced Monday in a brief statement that provided no further details.

The identities of the soldiers were being withheld pending notification of relatives.

The deaths raised to at least 4,083 members of the U.S. military who have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In a Memorial Day speech near Washington, D.C., U.S. President George W. Bush eulogized all U.S. troops who have died in service to the nation, but particularly those who lost their lives this past year.

"I am humbled by those who have made the ultimate sacrifice that allow a free civilization to endure and flourish," Bush said. "It only remains for us, the heirs of their legacy, to have the courage and the character to follow their lead and to preserve America as the greatest nation on Earth and the last, best hope for mankind."

Violence marks Memorial Day
In other violence Monday, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle struck a checkpoint manned by Iraqi police and U.S.-allied Sunni fighters Monday north of Baghdad, killing four people, officials said.

The blast occurred about 200 yards away from the house of the head of the local awakening group, which has joined forces with the Americans against al-Qaida in Iraq in Tarmiyah, according to a police official and a member of the group.

Those killed included a policeman, two awakening council guards and a civilian, according to the police. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to release the information.

The attacks came a day after the U.S. military said violence in Iraq had reached its lowest levels in four years.

Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, a U.S. military spokesman, said Sunday that the number of attacks in the past week decreased to a level “not seen since March 2004,” although he did not give specific figures.

He also warned that al-Qaida in Iraq was “off-balance and on the run” but remains a very lethal threat, tempering remarks by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker a day earlier that the terror network was closer than ever to being defeated.

Despite recent security gains, violence has been slower to decline in northern Iraq after insurgents fled to the area to escape U.S.-led crackdowns in Baghdad and surrounding areas.

Many of the attacks have targeted the so-called awakening councils, which have been a key factor in the drop in violence.

Sheik abducted
Suspected al-Qaida fighters also kidnapped Sheik Saleh al-Karkhi and his brother after blowing up his house in the village of Busaleh in the volatile Diyala province north of the capital, a police official told The AP, declining to be identified because he wasn’t supposed to release the information.

The official, who read the report at the provincial military operations command center in Baqouba, said al-Karkhi was probably abducted because he had set up two awakening councils in the area and “took it upon himself to fight al-Qaida.”

The U.S. military has consistently been cautious about recent security gains amid fears that al-Qaida and other insurgents are trying to regroup after suffering setbacks from military operations as well as a Sunni revolt against the terror network.

But officials have been taking a more confident tone over security gains in Iraq in recent weeks, particularly since the high profile crackdowns in Mosul and Sadr City, and the southern city of Basra. Those sweeps aim to impose Iraqi government control in areas that have been under the control of Shiite militias or Sunni insurgents.