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2 U.S. soldiers are killed by bombs in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq — BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Two U.S. soldiers died in separate attacks, the military announced yesterday, while a prominent Shiite Muslim cleric criticized the Iraqi government for not spending enough on basic services.

One soldier died and another was wounded when a bomb blast ripped their vehicle Thursday in the Baghdad area. The second soldier was killed in the city's Shiite eastern half when an explosion targeted his vehicle, the military said in a statement.

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The killings raised U.S. fatalities in Iraq to 3,630 since March 2003, according to a count tallied by icasualties.org.

U.S. soldiers killed three suspected fighters and captured 44 yesterday in raids against al-Qaida in Iraq and other militants around the country, the military said. President Bush has identified Iraq as the central front in the U.S.-declared war against al-Qaida. However, the extent of the links between al-Qaida in Iraq and the wider organization remain unclear.

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Outside of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, where U.S. forces have pressed a major offensive since last month, the Army said it detained on Thursday an Iraqi with links to Iran's elite Al Quds Force, the covert branch of the Republican Guards.

The military said the detainee had been smuggling into Iraq the armor-piercing bombs that it blames for killing American troops. U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Iran of bankrolling and training Shiite and Sunni factions in Iraq, a charge the Iranians have denied.

Meanwhile, in the Shiite shrine city of Karbala, a representative of Iraq's most respected Shiite religious figure, Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, lashed out at the Iraqi government during Friday prayer services. He accused the officials of not doing enough to spend billions of dollars in government funds on the Iraqi people.

Cleric Ahmed Saafi compared the Shiite-led government's performance on spending for ordinary people to "just like how it was during the ex-dictatorship" of Saddam Hussein.

Also yesterday, Iraq's national security adviser expressed doubt that Iraqi forces will be able to assume security control of the whole country by the end of the year, a goal of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government.

In April, al-Maliki said Iraqi soldiers and police would take over security responsibility from U.S. and other international forces in all 18 provinces by the end of 2007, allowing the coalition to shift into a support role and possibly begin sending troops home.

Ned Parker writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.



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