Insurgents attack U.S. combat base

Insurgents launched a co-ordinated attack on a U.S. combat post north of Baghdad on Monday, sending in a suicide bomber then clashing with U.S. troops, killing two Americans and wounding 17.

The assault began with a suicide bomber exploding a vehicle outside the base, the U.S. military said in a statement. It gave no further details beyond the number of dead and wounded.

Residents said U.S. forces fought with militants after the suicide bomber tried to break through barriers around the base near Tarmiyah, about 50 kilometres north of Baghdad. For hours, helicopters were seen landing at the base and leaving.

The attack came on a day when a string of car bombings and other attacks claimed more than 40 civilian lives in Baghdad and elsewhere.

Baghdad’s majority Shiite neighbourhoods were the focus of the attacks Monday in the capital. In the worst strike, a mortar attack killed at least 11 people in the Dora area, a mostly Shiite enclave surrounded by predominantly Sunni neighbourhoods.

Elsewhere in the capital, a suicide bomber donated an explosives-rigged belt on a public bus headed for the Karradah neighbourhood, police said. Five people were killed. Two other bombs – both in the southeastern Shiite neighbourhood of Zafraniyah – killed a total of eight.

In Mahmoudiya, 30 kilometres south of the capital, a car bomb went off among auto repair shops, killing two and wounding two, police said. Mahmoudiya is mostly Shiite with Sunnis living in villages around the community and has long been a flashpoint for sectarian violence.

Outside the capital, a car bomb in Ramadi, about 145 kilometres west of Baghdad, killed at least nine bystanders congregated at a police checkpoint in the aftermath of a failed suicide attack. In Duluiyah, a Sunni area about 70 kilometres north of Baghdad, at least four were killed when a bomb-rigged car exploded.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported three more marines and one army soldier were killed in western Iraq through the weekend and into Monday.

The soldier and one marine were killed Sunday while fighting in Anbar, a Sunni insurgent hotspot west of the capital. The other marine deaths occurred Saturday and Monday, the statements said.

The latest attacks in the capital and elsewhere were a sobering reminder of the huge challenges confronting any effort to rattle the well-armed and well-hidden insurgents.

A twin car bombing at a market in a mostly Shiite area on Sunday marked the first major blow to the U.S.-led security crackdown in the capital, where Iraqi officials had boasted that rebel factions were on the run. Police said at least 62 people died in that attack.

Just a few hours before, Lt.-Gen. Abboud Qanbar led reporters on a tour of the neighbourhood near the marketplace and promised to “chase the terrorists out of Baghdad.”

On Saturday, the Iraqi spokesman for the plan, Brig.-Gen. Qassim Moussawi, said violence had plummeted 80 per cent in the capital

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the bombing as a desperate act by “terrorists” and “criminals” who sense they are being squeezed.

“These crimes confirm the defeat of these perpetrators and their failure in confronting our armed forces, which are determined to cleanse the dens of terrorism,” al-Maliki said in a statement.

The U.S.-led teams have until now faced limited direct defiance as they set up checkpoints and comb neighbourhoods. But that could change as they move into more volatile sections. The next could be Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. soldiers pressed closer to Sadr City and the reception changed noticeably. In previous days, Shiite families opened their doors to welcome the troops – feeling that the American presence would be a buffer against feared attacks from Sunni militia.

On Sunday, in areas closer to Sadr City, parents slapped away the candy and lollipops being handed out by American soldiers.

Meanwhile, borders with Iran and Syria – shut for three days as the plan got under way – reopened Sunday. But new and strict rules will apply.

The United States and allies claim the insurgents receive are resupplied from the two countries.