BAGHDAD, Iraq – The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq has topped 1,500, an Associated Press count showed Thursday after the military announced the deaths of three Americans, while car bombs targeting Iraqi security forces killed at least four people in separate attacks.
Two homicide car bombs exploded outside the Interior Ministry (search) in eastern Baghdad Thursday, killing at least two policemen and wounding five others, police Maj. Jabar Hassan said. Officials at nearby al-Kindi hospital said 15 people were injured in the blasts, part of the relentless wave of violence since the Jan. 30 elections.
Another car bomb targeting a police convoy exploded in Baqouba (search), 35 miles northeast of the capital, killing one Iraqi policeman and a civilian, the U.S. military said. Six police and 10 other civilians were also wounded.
Amid the violence, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search) extended the state of emergency, first announced nearly four months ago, for another 30 days until the end of March. The order remains in effect throughout the country, except in northern Kurdish-run areas.
The emergency decree includes a nighttime curfew and gives the government extra powers to make arrests without warrants and launch police and military operations when it deems necessary.
The latest reported American deaths brought the toll to 1,502 since the United States launched the war in Iraq in March 2003, according to the AP count.
The military said two U.S. troops died Wednesday in Baghdad of injuries suffered when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle. Another soldier was killed the same day in Babil province, part of an area known as the "Triangle of Death" because of the frequency of insurgent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.
At least 1,140 Americans have died as a result of hostile action, according to the Defense Department. The figures include four military civilians.
Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 1,364 U.S. military members have died, according to the AP count. That includes at least 1,030 deaths resulting from hostile action, the military said.
The tally is based on Pentagon records and AP reporting from Iraq.
The U.S. exit strategy is dependent on handing over responsibility for security to Iraq's fledgling army and police forces. Forming Iraq's first democratically elected coalition government is turning out to be a laborious process.
The car bombers in Baghdad were trailing a police convoy that was trying to enter the Interior Ministry, Hassan said. Iraqi security forces opened fire on the vehicles and disabled them before they could arrive at a main checkpoint, said Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
Iraqi forces also killed one Iraqi man during clashes with gunmen in the northern city of Mosul, army Capt. Sabah Yassin said. Two soldiers were injured.
Also in the north, insurgents blew up a gas pipeline that links Kirkuk to Dibis, about 20 miles away, said Col. Nozad Mohammad, a state oil security official in Kirkuk. Mohammad said the blast would cut gas production, but he could not say by how much.
Talks aimed at forging a new coalition government faltered Wednesday over Kurdish demands for more land and concerns that the dominant Shiite alliance seeks to establish an Islamic state, delaying the planned first meeting of parliament.
Shiite and Kurdish leaders, Iraq's new political powers, failed to reach agreement after two days of negotiations in the northern city of Irbil, with the clergy-backed candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leaving with only half the deal he needed.
The Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which has 140 seats in the 275-member National Assembly, hopes to win backing from the 75 seats held by Kurdish political parties so it can muster the required two-thirds majority to insure control of top posts in the new government.
Al-Jaafari indicated after the talks that the alliance was ready to accept a Kurdish demand that one of its leaders, Jalal Talabani, become president. However, he would not commit to other demands, including the expansion of Kurdish autonomous areas south to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Kurdish leaders have demanded constitutional guarantees for their northern regions, including self-rule and reversal of the "Arabization" of Kirkuk and other northern areas. Saddam relocated Iraqi Arabs to the region in a bid to secure the oil fields there.
Politicians had hoped to convene the new parliament by Sunday. But Ali Faisal, of the Shiite Political Council, said the date was now postponed and that a new date had not been set.
"The blocs failed to reach an understanding over the formation of the government," said Faisal, whose council is part of the United Iraqi Alliance.
The Kurds, he added, were "the basis of the problem" in the negotiations.
"The Kurds are wary about al-Jaafari's nomination to head the government. They are concerned that a strict Islamic government might be formed," Faisal said. "Negotiations and dialogue are ongoing."
In another twist, alliance deputy and former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi was to meet Thursday with Allawi, whose party won 40 seats in the assembly. It was unclear why the meeting between the two rivals was taking place.
Both are secular Shiites opposed to making Iraq an Islamic state. Concerns over a possible theocracy are especially pertinent because the main task of the new assembly will be to write a constitution.
Elsewhere, Saddam Hussein's lead lawyer said Tuesday's shooting deaths of a judge and his lawyer son, both appointed to the Iraqi Special Tribunal to try the former Iraqi leader and his top henchmen, show the country remains too dangerous for such trials. The shootings marked the first time any legal staff working for the court have been killed.
"I can't imagine how the court would begin," Ziad al-Khasawneh told the AP in Tokyo. "The streets are burning, the judges are killed. ... The advocates and the judge, they need a quiet area to read, to study, to discuss. It is impossible to make these things this year, or after this year."