4 U.S. Marines killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Four U.S. Marines conducting security operations were killed yesterday in a Sunni-dominated area west of Baghdad while saboteurs detonated a bomb next to a gas pipeline north of the Iraqi capital. The pipeline, which feeds the enormous Bayji power plant, was set on fire.

The Marines were killed in Anbar, a hotbed of anti-American resistance that includes the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi and Qaim on the Syrian border, the U.S. command said today.


The military withheld the names of the Marines pending notification of their families.

Also yesterday, insurgents slashed the throat of a translator working for American forces in Kirkuk, the latest of a series of assaults on professionals supporting the multinational forces here. His body was dumped by the side of a river that flows through the middle of the city. Later in the day, clashes broke out between Iraqi police and insurgents.


The gas pipeline blast came five days after an explosion that cut off a pipeline feeding several northern power plants and a factory that makes gas canisters for household use. Over the past year, there have been more than 70 attacks on Iraqi oil and gas pipelines, oil plants and industry officials, according to a compendium maintained by the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington.

"You're going to see this kind of attack against feeder pipelines just continue," said Anne Korin, director of policy and strategic planning at the institute, who added that militants were using well-planned attacks to discredit the new Iraqi government.

"When it's really hot outside and the electricity is out, that's a really good way to make you unhappy," she said.

The attack could cut power supplies even as Iraq sizzles in summer temperatures topping 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but it wasn't clear how severe cutbacks would be.

Meanwhile, new reports suggested that three kidnapped foreigners remained alive after their abductors had threatened to kill them.

A militant group claiming to hold a Filipino truck driver hostage denied that the father of eight had been freed after his televised plea for his life and assurances from the Manila government that its 51 troops would be withdrawn from Iraq next month.

A written message to the Al-Jazeera TV channel had warned that Angelo de la Cruz, 46, would be killed if the Philippine government fails to withdraw its military contingent by July 20. It set a deadline of today to promise compliance.

Less than an hour before the Arabic-language satellite channel aired the message, Philippine officials said de la Cruz had been released and was en route to an undisclosed Baghdad hotel.


Al-Jazeera had carried footage earlier in the day of the handcuffed captive urging Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to pull the Filipino contingent out of Iraq. He also urged more than 4,000 other Filipinos who work as civilian contractors in Iraq to leave.

2 Bulgarians' fate

There was also uncertainty yesterday over the fate of two Bulgarians kidnapped near Mosul in northern Iraq more than a week ago. The kidnappers threatened to kill them unless the U.S.-led multinational forces released all Iraqi prisoners within 24 hours -- a deadline that expired late Friday.

In the Philippines, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales said de la Cruz was "in safe hands." Reports of de la Cruz's freedom reaching Manila were convincing enough to prompt Arroyo to telephone the hostage's wife with the news, setting off jubilation in the family's hometown.

But the group claiming to hold him told Al-Jazeera that it still had the Filipino.

"The hostage will remain captive and treated as a prisoner under Islam until the last Filipino soldier leaves Iraq July 20 at the latest. ... Or he will be executed," read the letter from the group calling itself the Islamic Army of Iraq, Khalid bin al Waleed Brigade, which was shown on late-night newscasts of the Qatar-based satellite channel. It said it was giving the Philippine government 24 hours to demonstrate that it was serious about withdrawing.


The de la Cruz case was the latest in a flurry of kidnappings aimed at weakening support for the U.S.-led occupation.

A Pakistani employee of the U.S. contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Haliburton subsidiary, returned to Islamabad, the capital, yesterday with harrowing tales of having witnessed three beheadings while being held by an extremist group.

The conflicting reports on de la Cruz's whereabouts followed a cautiously worded response from the Philippine government to the kidnappers' demands late Wednesday that Manila's small military force be withdrawn within 72 hours. The Philippine government said its troops would leave "on schedule by Aug. 20," making no mention of continuing discussions about replacing those soldiers. It also said nothing about the future of the thousands of Filipinos who provide catering, janitorial, construction and maintenance services for foreign troops in Iraq.

Al-Zarqawi group

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for kidnapping the Bulgarians, and said Thursday that the men would be killed unless the multinational force released all Iraqi prisoners within 24 hours.

Bulgaria has allied itself with the United States since the fall of the Iron Curtain. It has 480 soldiers serving under Polish command in southern Iraq.


"This is not a demand to the Bulgarian government, but to a third country [the United States], and therefore we cannot even consider it," Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy told reporters in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.

The New York Times News Service and the Associated Press contributed to this article. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.