7 Marines killed west of Baghdad

By wire services
Published August 3, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Seven U.S. Marines were killed in two separate attacks west of Baghdad, where American forces are trying to seal a major border infiltration route for foreign fighters, the military said Tuesday. The deaths pushed the U.S. military death toll in Iraq past 1,800.

One of the Marines died Monday in a suicide car bombing in Hit, 85 miles northwest of Baghdad. The other six were killed Monday in Haditha, 50 miles from Hit. All of those killed were attached to the same suburban Cleveland unit.

"Every single one of them is a hero," said Lt. Col. Kevin Rush of the Headquarters and Service Company, 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines based in Brook Park, Ohio.

At least 25 American service members have been killed in Iraq in the past 10 days - all but two in combat. The Iraqi Defense Ministry said that since the beginning of April, more than 2,700 Iraqis - about half of them civilians - had been killed in insurgency-related incidents.

Fighting has intensified in recent weeks in Haditha, Hit and other towns along the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad as American forces step up efforts to seal off the approaches to the Syrian border and prevent foreign fighters from entering the country.

The Marines launched a series of operations in the region in May and June in hopes of pacifying the area so Iraqi military and civilian forces could assume control.

The U.S. command said the six Marines were "engaged by terrorists and killed by small-arms fire" in Haditha, which U.S. and Iraqi officials have identified as a major route for insurgents entering Iraq.

After the attack, residents of Haditha said several masked gunmen identifying themselves as members of the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, a major Sunni Arab insurgent group, appeared in the market carrying helmets, flak jackets and automatic rifles they said belonged to U.S. troops.

They distributed fliers claiming they had killed 10 American service members.

In Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded at the entrance to a highway tunnel in central Baghdad as a U.S. military convoy was passing, damaging two Humvees. At least 29 Iraqis were wounded, officials said. But there was no report of any American casualties.

At least 1,801 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,382 died as a result of hostile action.

The Defense Ministry said that since April 1, 2,709 Iraqis have died in violent attacks, including 1,413 civilians.

The death toll for July was 656, the ministry said. That was the second deadliest month since the Shiite-dominated government was installed - surpassed only by May's figure of 967 deaths.

Violence has accelerated as the Iraqis struggle to finish a new constitution - which the United States sees as crucial toward maintaining political momentum and undermining the insurgency.

Also Tuesday:

A suicide car bomber struck a police checkpoint in Mosul, killing four people, three of them police, Brig. Gen. Wathiq Mohammed said.

An explosion damaged a pipeline used for shipping fuel to a Baghdad power station, raising fears of further power cutbacks in the capital.

U.S. troops clashed with insurgents in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. There were no reports of U.S. casualties.

Iraqi officials announced fuel rationing for citizens. The reasons for the rationing cited by government officials included insurgent attacks, corruption, decayed infrastructure and mismanagement.

Amnesty International said armed groups in Iraq that oppose the U.S.-led coalition are committing war crimes by killing civilians, taking hostages, and torturing and slaying defenseless prisoners. The organization denounced the insurgents for a "failure to abide by even the most basic standards of humanitarian law."

Information from the Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.