BAGHDAD, Iraq – Bombing and shooting attacks west of Baghdad killed six U.S. troops, and a car bomber slammed into a truck carrying Iraqi policemen near the airport Thursday, killing at least eight and wounding 25 — the latest wave of violence aimed at derailing Iraq's advancing political process.
The attacks came as Shiite politicians completed efforts to include the disaffected Sunni Arab minority in the work of drafting Iraq's new constitution. Senior members of the Shiite-dominated committee writing the charter reached agreement with the Sunnis on how many representatives the minority will have on the body.
Thursday's deal broke weeks of deadlock between the 55-member committee and Sunni Arabs over the size of their representation. The stalemate had threatened Iraq's political process as it was about to enter its final stretch, with two key nationwide votes later this year — a constitutional referendum and a general election.
Insurgents have used that time to carry out a series of attacks, killing nearly 1,100 people since the Shiite-led government took office April 28.
A U.S. general blamed Jordanian-born terrorist leader Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi (search ) for the "fantastic rise" in the number of civilian deaths since then.
"With Zarqawi's push recently, we certainly see the fantastic rise in the number of civilians killed, given that he has proclaimed that taking out civilians is an acceptable thing," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Alston, spokesman for the Multinational Force in Iraq.
Last month, an audiotape said to be from al-Zarqawi — leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq (search) — denounced the country's Shiites as collaborators with the Americans and justified the deaths of fellow Muslims.
Al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for bombings, beheadings and attacks targeting coalition forces. The United States has offered a $25 million reward for his capture — the same amount as for Usama bin Laden (search).
Alston also said U.S. forces arrested the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq's Mosul branch — a man considered a top aide to al-Zarqawi. Mohammed Khalaf, also known as Abu Talha (search), was arrested Tuesday after U.S. forces received a number of tips, Alston said.
"Talha was one of al-Zarqawi's most trusted operation agents in Iraq. This is a major defeat for Al Qaeda terrorist organization in Iraq," Alston said.
The general also said the Syrian border is the "worst problem" in terms of stemming the influx of foreign fighters to Iraq. Syria is under intense pressure from Washington and Baghdad to tighten control of its porous 380-mile border with Iraq.
The deaths of the six U.S. troops came Wednesday during insurgent attacks that killed 58 people, making it the deadliest day of violence in more than a month. At least 1,714 U.S. military members have died since the war began in 2003, according to an AP count.
Five Marines were killed after their vehicle was attacked near Ramadi (search), 70 miles west of Baghdad, the military said Thursday. Officials in Ramadi had reported a roadside bomb blast in the pre-dawn hours.
A sailor attached to the Marines' unit also was killed Wednesday in Ramadi by gunfire, the military said.
Despite the mounting U.S. death toll, the Bush administration has insisted that a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops cannot be considered until Iraq's own forces are strong enough to protect their country from insurgents. The training of Iraqi security forces will be a key issue at President Bush's June 24 meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari (search), White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday.
The Iraqi security forces have about 169,000 members, Alston said.
On the road connecting Baghdad with its airport, a bomber plowed his black sedan at high speed into a truck carrying police officers from checkpoint to checkpoint at about 4 p.m. The officers were part of an evening shift replacing other officers at the checkpoints, said police Maj. Moussa Abdul Karim and medic Najam Abid of the al-Yarmouk hospital.
The blast killed at least eight officers and wounded at least 25, Karim and Abid said.
Meanwhile, a judge and his bodyguard were killed Thursday in an eastern Mosul neighborhood where many residents support the now-banned Baath Party of toppled President Saddam Hussein (search), officials said.
Six masked gunmen in two cars blocked the road and sprayed the judge's car with machine-gun fire, said Mosul Judge Abdul al-Hassaniani and Dr. Bahaa al-Din al-Bakri of the city's hospital. The officials identified the dead judge as Salim Mahmoud al-Haj Ali. Mosul is 225 miles northwest of Baghdad.
Police found the bodies of 11 people in two towns in the so-called Triangle of Death on Thursday, an official said. The corpses of five family members were discovered at a farm in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of Baghdad, said police spokesman Capt. Muthana Khalid.
A group of armed men wearing police uniforms broke into the family's house Wednesday and pretended to arrest them but later killed them, Khalid said. The victims were tortured, he said.
The remains of six other people were found in Latifiyah, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, Khalid said. Gunmen used the bodies as a trap to ambush arriving police, he said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The deal between Shiites and Sunnis concerning the constitutional committee will help defuse growing sectarian tension. The minority Sunnis are believed to make up the core of an insurgency, and the deadlock has coincided with a marked escalation of violence.
The United States and the European Union have called for the inclusion of the Sunni Arabs in the drafting of the constitution to ensure the credibility and success of the process.
The compromise calls for 15 Sunni Arabs to join the two already on the 55-member committee. Another 10 Sunni Arabs would join, but only in an advisory capacity.
News of the deal was announced by two committee lawmakers — Shiite Bahaa al-Aaraji and Sunni Arab Adnan al-Janabi. Both have led contacts with the Sunni Arab community over the size of their participation in the constitutional process.
The new charter must be approved by parliament by mid-August and put to a nationwide vote two months later. If passed, it will be the basis for a new election in December.