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U.S. Surprised by Size of Insurgent Ambush

U.S. soldiers, ambushed by dozens of Iraqi militants near the infamous "Triangle of Death," responded by killing 26 guerrillas in the largest single insurgent death toll since last fall's battle for Fallujah (search), the U.S. military said Monday.

The high number of deaths in Sunday's daylight battle south of Baghdad was attributed to the large number of attackers, unusual in a country where most clashes are carried out by small bands of gunmen or homicide bombers.

"I was surprised at the numbers," said Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein, a squad leader for the 617th Military Police Company of Richmond, Ky., and a native of Henryville, Ind., involved in the firefight. "Usually we can usually expect seven to 10."

As the U.S. military reported that and other successes against the insurgency, attackers struck several times Monday, killing seven civilians and three Iraqi soldiers. A roadside bomb in Aziziyah (search), 35 miles southeast of Baghdad, killed four women and three children, police said.

Reporting on Sunday's big firefight, the U.S. military said MPs and artillery units from the Kentucky National Guard were traveling along a road 20 miles southeast of Baghdad (search) around noon when 40 to 50 militants emerged from a grove of trees and a roadside canal firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

The soldiers returned fire, killing or wounding all the insurgents in a field and driving away those attacking from the canal. Seven Americans were reported wounded, but no details were given on their conditions. Commanders said seven wounded insurgents and one unwounded attacker were captured.

The guerrilla death toll — 26 — was the highest in a single clash in Iraq since U.S. forces took control of the formerly insurgent-held city of Fallujah west of the capital.

In late December, an attack on a U.S. military outpost in Mosul resulted in the deaths of 25 insurgents and one U.S. soldier.

Military officials said the road where Sunday's attack occurred has seen a surge in violence against coalition forces, including an ambush Friday in nearly the same spot that killed a foreign driver. They blame a nearby village believed to be an insurgent hideout.

After the battle, U.S. troops recovered six rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 16 rockets, 13 machine guns, 22 assault rifles, more than 2,900 bullets and 40 hand grenades.

It was one of several blows to the insurgency that were reported Monday.

A pre-dawn raid Monday by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Kirkuk captured 13 people believed tied to a fatal attack on a local police officer and the bombing of his funeral procession that killed three more officers. Thirty other suspects were detained Friday in Karbala.

U.S. officials also said two suspects were arrested in the suicide bombing Sunday that killed the anti-corruption director in the northern city of Mosul, Walid Kashmoula.

In addition, they said 10 men captured by Iraqi soldiers last week had confessed to staging a March 9 suicide bombing in Baghdad using a garbage truck near the Agricultural Ministry and a hotel favored by Westerners. At least four people, including the attackers and a guard, were killed in that attack.

Officials also said two insurgents were killed and two wounded in two separate incidents when they were found digging roadside holes for homemade bombs in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad.

In violence Monday:

—An Iraqi solider died and four were wounded when their vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in western Baghdad. Also in the capital, gunmen in two speeding cars fired at an Iraq army foot patrol, killing one soldier and wounding one.

—Another Iraqi soldier was killed in Sherqat, 160 miles north of Baghdad, when a mortar shell struck his army camp.

—The head of the police force in Baghdad's Kazimiyah neighborhood, Col. Mou'yad Farhan, escaped unhurt when gunmen shot at his car but his driver suffered serious injuries.

—In Samarra, a pickup truck driven by a suicide bomber exploded prematurely near a hospital, wounding about a dozen civilians and damaging homes.

On the diplomatic front, Jordan's King Abdullah II on Monday ordered his top envoy in Iraq to return to his post, just one day after recalling him over Iraqi claims that Jordan was allowing insurgents to slip across the border, Jordan's official Petra news agency said. Iraq also withdrew its envoy from Jordan in the tit-for-tat withdrawals by the two neighbors.

Political negotiations to form a coalition government remained snagged in a disagreement between Shiite Arabs and Kurds.

The spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiite clergy, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was expected to meet Wednesday with Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader likely to become Iraq's next president.

The 140 seats won by the Shiite alliance in the Jan. 30 elections is the biggest bloc of seats in the new National Assembly, but it needs the support of the Kurds' 75 deputies to have enough votes to form a government.

The Kurds want the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk to be returned to the autonomous Kurd region as soon as the government convenes, but an official from al-Sistani's office said he wants the issue handled in the constitution to be drafted by the National Assembly.

Former dictator Saddam Hussein drove Kurds from their homes in Kirkuk and the surrounding region and replaced them with Iraqi Arabs.

A senior member of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, Ahmad Chalabi, told Al-Arabiya television that the Kurds also wanted the powerful ministry of oil position in the new Cabinet.

Shiites make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million people, while Sunni Arabs account for about 20 percent. Kurds, who are Sunni Muslims but mostly secular, are 15 percent to 20 percent.