BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Fourteen Americans were killed in combat in five incidents, most in Baghdad, in a 48-hour period ending yesterday, the U.S. military announced.
Notably, only one U.S. soldier has died in the major military operations in Diyala province, where 300 to 500 fighters for the insurgent group al-Qaida in Iraq are believed to be hiding. That death occurred earlier in the week.
Suicide bombers struck yesterday in northern Iraq and in Baghdad. In the area around Hillah, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, a joint Iraqi-U.S. operation was under way to capture or kill members of the militia linked to the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
More troops, bombs
Most of the U.S. deaths over the past two days were caused by roadside bombs, which were used in three of the five incidents. These bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, have been the biggest killers of Americans.
The higher casualties are due in part to the higher number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq as part of the Baghdad security plan that started in mid-February, officials said.
The troops are at full strength now and are beginning operations in areas they had previously been unable to enter. The use of ever-more-powerful roadside bombs has also increased the number of casualties.
"We are now finally operating in all the belts around Baghdad as well as in Baghdad," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad. "We now have the ability to fight everywhere at once.
"One of the challenges is that we are now moving operations into areas where we haven't been regularly."
While the U.S. military has not said whether any of the attacks in the 48-hour period involved the very powerful explosively formed projectiles, which are capable of hurling a solid fist of copper through armored vehicles, that type of bomb has also become a regular tool in the arsenal used by Shiite and Sunni Arab insurgents.
Nine U.S. deaths
The deadliest attack came yesterday in northeastern Baghdad, when a powerful roadside bomb exploded near a vehicle, killing five soldiers, their Iraqi interpreter and three Iraqi civilians traveling with them.
The bomb also wounded a soldier and two Iraqi civilians.
In another attack yesterday, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a military vehicle in Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding two others.
On Wednesday, four soldiers were killed in western Baghdad when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle. One soldier was wounded in that attack.
Combat in Anbar
Southwest of Baghdad, two soldiers were killed when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb. In Anbar province, west of Baghdad, two Marines died in combat on Wednesday, the military said.
At least three mortar shells hit the Green Zone, where the U.S. Embassy and the Iraqi government are situated, and a mortar killed a civilian in Baghdad. Twenty bodies were found around Baghdad yesterday.
In Diyala province, outside the area of the U.S. offensive, six civilians were killed by gunmen. In Baqouba, the provincial capital, where the U.S. offensive against al-Qaida in Iraq is under way, about 700 women, children and old men were reported to be making for the area to the north of the city in search of food and water despite the danger from the fighting, Iraqi security forces in Diyala said.
The military also reported that it had mistakenly bombed a house in Diyala, wounding 11 people. The target was a booby-trapped house, but the bomb fell some distance from its target on the house of civilians.
The military said it is investigating.
In Suleiman Bek, in a part of northern Iraq where attacks have not been as deadly as in some areas, a suicide bomber drove his car into a compound of houses, a police station and the town hall, killing at least 17 people, including the mayor and the chairman of the city council, and wounding 70 people, some of them severely, the police said.
In Hillah, Iraqi security forces and the U.S. military raided local Shiite militia and party headquarters and sites where operatives for Al-Qaida in Mesopotamia were thought to be hiding. Hillah, a mostly Shiite city, is in Babil province, which is about 25 percent Sunni Arab.
There have been repeated attacks on predominantly Sunni villages in the province, believed to have been carried out by the Mahdi Army, the militia linked to al-Sadr. But another Shiite militia, the Badr Organization, and al-Qaida in Iraq are also thought to be active in the area.
The Babil province police commander, Gen. Qais al-Mamorrey, said the operation under way is intended to "fight the militia organizations in north of Babil, especially the Mahdi Army."
"The main problem we face is a great shortage of police and army soldiers and equipment," he said. "We need government support to purge the police force of bad police elements."
He said that about 65 policemen had been removed from the force "after finding proof that they were involved in working for parties or militias."