Two US Marines die in western Iraq offensive

Two US Marines were killed and 14 wounded when an explosive device hit their troop transport vehicle during a large American offensive being fought against suspected insurgents in western Iraq, the military said today.

Two US Marines were killed and 14 wounded when an explosive device hit their troop transport vehicle during a large American offensive being fought against suspected insurgents in western Iraq, the military said today.

In Baghdad, militants exploded a car bomb in a market, killing at least six people, police said.

During the fifth day of Operation Matador near the Syrian border, hundreds of American troops in tanks and light armoured vehicles continued to roll through desert outposts in search of followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist group, the US military said.

Residents in the villages of Karabilah and Saadah reported heavy bombardments by US artillery or warplanes following fighting in the area.

Last night, a US Assault Amphibian Vehicle struck an explosive device four and a half miles east of the town of Husaybah, killing two Marines and wounding 14, American military spokesman Captain Jeffrey Pool said.

Earlier in the offensive, which began late Saturday night, at least three Marines were reported killed and 20 wounded. It is one of the biggest US military operations in Iraq since Fallujah was taken from militants six months ago.

As many as 100 insurgents were killed in the first 48 hours of the offensive when US forces clashed with well-organised and well-equipped fighters in Obeidi, 200 miles west of Baghdad, the US military said.

Meanwhile, attacks by insurgents continued in other areas of Iraq, following a wave of bombs and gunfire that killed at least 69 people and wounded 160 Wednesday – pushing the death toll from insurgent violence to more than 400 in less than two weeks.

Today, more attacks by insurgents occurred.

A car bomb exploded near a market in eastern Baghdad, killing at least six people and wounding 13, said police 1st Lieutenant Mazin Saeed. The blast also set some shops on fire in the New Baghdad area of the capital and destroyed 10 cars parked nearby, he said.

In two other areas of Baghdad, suspected insurgents shot and killed Brigadier General Iyad Imad Mahdi as he drove to work the Ministry of Defence and Colonel Fadhil Muhammed Mobarak as he travelled to the Interior Ministry, where he led its police control room, police said.

Two car bombs also exploded in the northern city of Kirkuk, which is 180 miles north of Baghdad, police said.

One blast occurred near a Shiite mosque, killing two people and wounding two, said police Captain Sarhad Talabani.

The other car bomb exploded at a site where explosives experts were dismantling a roadside bomb that residents had found, said police Brigadier General Sarhad Qader. Two of the experts were wounded by the blast, which also destroyed nearby vehicles, Qader said.

The latest violence underscored how intense the fight for Iraq’s future has become in the scant three months since Iraqis voted in the country’s first democratic elections and more than two years since the US declared the end of major combat.

Insurgents averaged about 70 attacks a day at the start of May, up from 30/40 in February and March, said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan, a spokesman for US forces in Iraq.

President Jalal Talabani, on his first foreign trip as head of state, appealed yesterday to South American nations to support his country’s efforts to defeat its insurgency.

“Terrorism is not limited to Iraq, it is a global curse,” Talabani told heads of state and ministers in Brazil for the first summit of South American and Arab countries.

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