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8 U.S. Troops Killed in Battle for Border

Times Staff Writer

U.S. forces in western Iraq are facing fierce resistance to their new effort to take control of the Syrian border, with car bombs and an ambush killing eight troops in a single day, Army and Marine officials said Tuesday.

The series of deadly attacks Monday included the ambush of six Marines on a foot patrol outside Haditha, Marine officials said. Five of the Marines were killed by small-arms fire in the initial assault, but one was “unaccounted for” and later found dead a couple of miles away, a Marine statement said. Officials declined to say whether that Marine was taken hostage before he was killed, and the military was investigating the incident.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 04, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 04, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 News Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Iraq deaths -- An article in Wednesday’s Section A about a military operation in western Iraqa said eight U.S. troops were killed Monday. There were seven troop deaths. No soldier was killed in a car bombing near the Syrian border.

The Marines were going door to door after getting a tip that “bad guys” were in the neighborhood when a barrage of bullets hit them, a Marine source said. The patrol returned fire.

Haditha is a nearly lawless area that Marines were pulled away from to help with the attack on Fallouja in November. Iraqi law enforcement in the town is thin and sporadic, with police cars sitting dusty and unused.

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A seventh Marine, identified as Sgt. James R. Graham III, 25, of Coweta, Okla., was killed by a suicide car bombing in nearby Hit. All of the slain Marines were assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2 of the 2nd Marine Division.

A U.S. Army soldier was killed near the Syrian border in a car bombing that also injured an Army Times reporter.

The eight deaths Monday bring to more than 1,800 the number of U.S. troops killed since the start of the war in March 2003. In an Internet statement, the Army of Ansar al Sunna insurgent group claimed responsibility for killing the Marines, Reuters reported.

There was no word from the military on whether any insurgents were killed in the incidents in western Iraq. The deaths of the Americans, though, highlight the intensity of the fighting in the area after a recent order by Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in the country, to control Iraq’s western border by November.

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Army troops with the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division two weeks ago began setting up the first long-term U.S. outpost in the northern Euphrates River valley, in the small city of Rawah, and are seeking to wrest control of a historic smuggling route. Military officials say intelligence reports suggest that insurgents have been using the route to ferry in as many as 200 foreign fighters from Syria each month, along with bomb-laden cars and trucks, heading toward Baghdad and other city centers.

Though car bombs have become routine in the capital and in the area around Mosul in northern Iraq, they have been relatively rare in western Iraq until very recently.

U.S. military officials generally agree that foreign fighters make up less than 10% of the insurgency but play a prominent role in coordinating and directing major attacks. Most insurgents, U.S. authorities say, are Iraqi Sunni Muslim Arabs.

As the military pressed on with its campaign in western Iraq, families in the impoverished Baghdad neighborhood of Abu Disheer mourned the deaths of 22 Shiite Muslim men who were executed and left Monday in a trash heap in the nearby Um Maalif area.

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A dozen shuttered shops bore black signs announcing the deaths of their owners in a neighborhood dotted with signs from earlier incidents. The men were shot in the head and chest, and police said some showed signs of torture.

What made the incident unusual, officials said, was that none of the men appeared to have a connection with the government or security forces, except for two former police officers. Insurgents frequently target Iraqi security forces, accusing them of collaboration with the United States.

The killers wore military uniforms and drove Ministry of Defense vehicles, said Jawad Maliki, the head of the security committee in the National Assembly. He said he confirmed the account with the Ministry of Defense. It was not known whether the killers were ministry employees or had perhaps stolen uniforms and cars from the government. Maliki called for an investigation of whether the killers were Defense Ministry employees.

Neighbors said the uniformed men knocked on the doors of the victims, who lived within blocks of one another, around sunset Sunday and asked for them by name, saying they were wanted for questioning. One asked the uniformed men whether they were capturing terrorists, and was killed, neighbors said.

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Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.


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