Iraq violence kills 4 U.S. troops; Gates' visit ends

Times Staff Writer

The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq announced Friday the deaths of four American military personnel.

Insurgents killed two Marines and a sailor in Al Anbar province Thursday, and a soldier was killed in an attack in Baghdad that included small-arms fire and explosives Friday, authorities said.

The death of a fourth Marine killed Thursday in Al Anbar was previously reported.

The killings raised the number of U.S. military deaths in the conflict to 2,964, according to, a website that tracks the casualties of the Iraq war.

The deaths came as newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates completed a three-day visit to Iraq, where he met with U.S. military commanders and Iraqi leaders to assess the situation. He returned to Washington on Friday and is to present his findings today to President Bush, who is weighing options for a new strategy in the country.

Many Iraqi politicians have said in interviews that they would welcome additional efforts by the United States to train and equip Iraqi security forces, but some have expressed concerns about U.S. proposals to increase the number of American troops.

"The Iraqis want -- before any actual increase in the number of American troops -- to expand the Iraqi role in handling security," said Abbas Bayati, a Shiite Muslim politician with close ties to Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

"The Americans, on the other hand, want to bring 20,000 to 30,000 troops to secure Baghdad for two to three months. Iraqi commanders wonder if such a large number is needed," Bayati said.

In Friday sermons, Muslim clerics criticized the ineffectiveness of the current national government, lamented the sectarian violence and condemned politicians who left Iraq to make the pilgrimage to Mecca while the country is in crisis.

"Some leaders appear on television as they perform pilgrimage to Mecca and they are shown as they pray and fast," said Sheik Harith Obaidi, a Sunni Muslim cleric in Baghdad.

"But when they are alone by themselves they are quite different," Obaidi said.

"These leaders are butchers who mention the name of God as they slaughter the sheep, just as they mention the name of God and kill people. They mention the name of God and imprison people. They mention the name of God and displace people."

A Sunni cleric was kidnapped in northeast Baghdad after delivering his sermon.

In other violence, at least 19 Iraqis were reported killed, including 12 whose bodies were found in Baghdad on Friday. All of the bodies had bullet wounds, but none showed signs of torture, police said.

In Baqubah, five bodies were found, said a nurse who declined to be identified.

In Kut, police said, the body of a young man was retrieved from a river and a motorcycle bomb killed one person.

Times staff writer Saif Hameed and special correspondents in Baghdad, Baqubah and Hillah contributed to this report.

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