In the deadliest insurgent violence in weeks, militants stormed two police stations and a mosque in Baghdad on Friday, killing 30 people. In the northern city of Mosul (search), 11 militants died in street battles with American and Iraqi forces.
Roadside bombs in Baghdad and Kirkuk killed two American soldiers and wounded five others, the military said. The surge in violence indicates militants still can stage attacks at will despite a U.S.-led military campaign to quell the insurgency before Jan. 30 elections.
A car bomb detonated Friday near a unit of U.S. Marines on Iraq's border with Jordan causing casualties, said Lt. Lyle Gilbert, spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (search).
"A Marine guard fired on the vehicle closing in on a military position and the vehicle continued toward the Marine position and impacted an area that caused it to detonate," Gilbert said. "There were casualties, but it's too early to give in details of deaths and injuries."
Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's (search) group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for a raid on a Baghdad police station and other attacks.
"The destructive effect that such operations have on the morale of the enemy ... is clear," said the claim, which could not be independently verified. It was posted on an Islamic Web site.
U.S. commanders and Iraq's interim authorities hope to boost security in the mainly Sunni Muslim areas of central and northern Iraq before the elections. Sunni politicians have urged them to postpone balloting because of escalating violence.
The visiting NATO commander expressed surprise Friday that Iraq's insurgency had proven so resilient by comparison with Afghanistan, where he said security has improved significantly.
"At the beginning I would have projected the opposite, with Iraq coming along faster," said U.S. Gen. James Jones, the supreme allied commander in Europe.
The attacks in Baghdad began just before 6 a.m. when 11 carloads of gunmen attacked the police station in the western Amil district with rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire.
Insurgents killed 16 policemen, looted weapons, torched cars and freed about 35 detainees before escaping, police Capt. Mohammed al-Jumeili said.
Later, in the Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah, a car bomb exploded at a Shiite mosque called Hameed al-Najar, killing 14 people and wounding 19, hospital officials said.
Azamiyah was a center of Sunni support for Saddam Hussein (search), and the attack on the mosque may have been a bid by Sunnis to stoke sectarian strife there. However, the imam of the nearby Sunni Abu Hanifa mosque quickly condemned the attack.
"Iraqi resistance has nothing to do with bombing mosques and churches and killing innocent people in markets and streets," Sheik Ahmed Hassan Al-Taha said in a sermon. "The resistance (exists) to defend the country and liberate it."
Soon after, insurgents and Iraqi government forces fought for about two hours around an Azamiyah police station, officers said. There were no reports of casualties.
American and Iraqi forces also clashed Friday with insurgents in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Paul Hastings said. The fighting started when guerrillas fired several mortar rounds at an American base; no casualties were reported.
Maj. Gen. Rashid Feleih, head of the Iraqi commando force, said gunmen also attacked three Mosul police stations. The defenders returned fire, killing 11 attackers and capturing three others. Another Iraqi official said two civilians also died.
Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, saw a major uprising last month that forced the U.S. command and the interim government to divert troops from an offensive in Fallujah.
On Thursday, Iraqi and U.S. forces discovered 14 bodies in Mosul, and there were reports five more bodies were picked up by relatives. That brought to at least 66 the number of bodies — many of them believed to be members of the Iraqi security forces or supporters of the interim government — found there since Nov. 18.
The latest American deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed since the war started in March 2003 to at least 1,265, according to an Associated Press count.
Two weeks ago, after U.S. Marines regained control of Fallujah, Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, claimed the operation had "broken the back of the insurgency."
But repeated attacks since then and the killings in Mosul suggest the security situation remains volatile ahead of the Jan. 30 vote for a 275-member assembly that will write a permanent constitution.
On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will increase by 12,000 and reach a high of about 150,000 by the elections.