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Bomb kills 3 U.S. soldiers in Iraq

Published May 6, 2006

BAGHDAD - A roadside bomb killed three American soldiers south of Baghdad on Friday as U.S. and Iraqi forces swept through a city to the north where three insurgents had been killed the day before after firing on U.S troops.

The three Americans died in the attack shortly before noon in Babil province, the U.S. military said, giving few other details. However, Iraqi police said the blast targeted a military convoy near Mahaweel, 35 miles south of Baghdad.

In Samara, 60 miles north of the capital, American and Iraqi forces imposed a daytime curfew and searched neighborhoods looking for insurgents a day after three militants were killed after they opened fire on U.S. soldiers, police said.

Samara was the scene of the Feb. 22 explosion at a Shiite shrine that inflamed sectarian tensions. It triggered reprisal attacks on Sunnis, forced tens of thousands of Iraqis to flee their homes and pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

American officials are hoping the new national unity government of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds will eventually reduce sectarian tensions and lure disaffected Sunni Arabs away from the insurgency so U.S. and other foreign troops can begin to go home.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has until late this month to complete his Cabinet, the final stage in organizing the new government. Haitham al-Husseini, a Shiite spokesman, said the Cabinet would be announced Tuesday.

Six people, five of them Sunnis, were killed Friday when gunmen in three cars shot and firebombed two small groceries in the capital's Yarmouk district, police said. A community leader was slain by gunmen near Khalis, 50 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

An Iraqi police major was assassinated in a drive-by shooting in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, police said. And a Shiite cleric, Hussein Ahmed al-Mousawi, was shot and killed near his home in Baghdad's Dora district, according to police Capt. Jamil Hussein.

The bodies of eight Iraqis who apparently were kidnapped and killed also were found Friday, five in Baghdad and three on the outskirts of the city, police said. Such sectarian killings by Shiite and Sunni "death squads" have become common in Iraq, especially in the capital.

Elsewhere, gunmen kidnapped seven employees of the state-run company that operates oil fields in northern Iraq, police said. The workers were traveling by minibus to the refinery in Baiji when they were stopped by gunmen about 25 miles southwest of Kirkuk.

Al-Qaida in Iraq leader may not have been as bumbling as he looked

An effort by the American military to discredit al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by showing video outtakes of him fumbling with a machine gun raises questions about the military's contention that Zarqawi lacks fighting skill, retired and active U.S. military officers said Friday.

The video clips, released on Thursday to news organizations in Baghdad, show the terrorist leader confused about how to handle an M249 squad automatic weapon, which is part of the American inventory of infantry weapons.

But several veterans of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as active-duty officers, said Friday that the clips of Zarqawi's supposed martial incompetence were unconvincing.

The weapon in question is complicated to master, and American soldiers and Marines undergo many days of training to achieve the most basic competence with it. It has also long had mixed reviews in the ranks, in part because it is regarded as temperamental and prone to jamming.

Moreover, the weapon in Zarqawi's hands was an older variant, which makes its malfunctioning unsurprising. The veterans said Zarqawi, who had spent his years as a terrorist surrounded by simpler weapons of Soviet design, and who had managed to lead a vicious insurgency against the American military in Iraq, could hardly have been expected to know how to handle it.

"They are making a big deal out of nothing," said Mario Costagliola, who retired as an Army colonel last month after serving as the operations officer for the 42nd Infantry Division in Tikrit, Iraq.

The retired and active officers also said the public presentation of the tape did not address elements that were disturbing, not amusing: The weapon was probably captured from American soldiers, indicating a tactical victory for the insurgents. And Zarqawi looked clean and plump.

"I see a guy who is getting a lot of groceries and local support," said Nick Pratt, a Marine Corps veteran and professor of terrorism studies at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany. He added, "People should be careful who they poke fun at."

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

[Last modified May 6, 2006, 07:03:22]

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