Police, Kids, Contractors Killed in Iraq

A roadside bomb struck a car being driven by a police colonel in northern Iraq (search) on Sunday, killing him and his two sons as well as two young girls nearby, and insurgents killed more than 15 other Iraqis in shootings, bombings and suicide attacks.

Five U.S. soldiers were wounded in three bombings in the capital. The attacks came after a week in which 23 U.S. troops were reported dead, raising to 1,996 the number of military personnel killed since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press Count.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military confirmed that insurgents killed four American contract workers and wounded two last month when their U.S.-escorted convoy got lost in a town north of Baghdad (search). The command did not say why the deaths had not been reported earlier.

The Sept. 20 ambush in the mostly Sunni Arab town of Duluiyah was first reported Saturday by the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, which said the four dead worked for Halliburton Co.'s (search) KBR subsidiary. A Halliburton spokeswoman said only three KBR employees were killed.

The slaying of the police colonel Sunday occurred in Tikrit, the hometown of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein that is 80 miles north of Baghdad.

Lt. Colonel Haitham Akram was driving his two young sons in his own car when a bomb hidden on the roadside blasted the vehicle at 8 a.m., engulfing it in flames, police 1st Lt. Udai Ahmed said. Another car parked nearby also burned, killing two girls aged 7 and 9, Ahmed said.

A short time later, another roadside bomb exploded in Tikrit near a car carrying children to school, wounding three, police Capt. Hakeem Al Azawi said.

In other violence reported Sunday:

_A car bomber attacked two police vehicles in Baghdad's central Al-Tahrir Square, killing two police officers and two civilians, wounding four policemen and seven civilians and damaging shops.

_Gunmen killed a leader of an anti-Saddam Shiite Muslim group and his driver on a highway outside the southern city of Amarah.

_A bomber rammed his car into a U.S. military convoy in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, killing two civilians and wounding 13.

_Attackers fatally shot three Iraqis driving a water truck to an Iraqi army base on a highway near Taji, north of Baghdad.

_A series of drive-by shootings killed a police lieutenant, three civilians and a student cleric in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

_Gunmen shot up a car carrying Shiite Muslim workers in Baghdad, killing one and wounding two.

Asked about last month's incident involving the contract workers, Maj. Richard Goldenberg told The Associated Press the attack occurred when a convoy that included U.S. soldiers in Humvees made a wrong turn into Duluiyah and insurgents opened fire with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

In Texas, Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann said she could not confirm many details of the Daily Telegraph report, including its claim that two of the contract workers had been dragged from a damaged car and killed while kneeling in a road.

"Where they're getting those details, we don't know," Mann said, speaking by phone from Houston. "We did have three employees killed ... not four that they're reporting."

It wasn't immediately clear who the fourth dead person was. Goldenberg, a spokesman for U.S. Task Force Liberty forces in north-central Iraq, said he could not provide the victims' identities.

The Telegraph gave a gruesome account of how insurgents killed two of the contract workers who it said were dragged alive from a vehicle: "Killing one of the men with a rifle round fired into the back of his head, they doused the other with petrol and set him alight."

"Barefoot children, yelping in delight, piled straw on to the screaming man's body to stoke the flames," it added. The crowd then "dragged their corpses through the street, chanting anti-U.S. slogans," the newspaper said.

The Telegraph quoted U.S. Capt. Andrew Staples, a member of a Task Force Liberty battalion that patrols the area, saying he had talked to unidentified soldiers involved in the ambush.

Goldenberg said he could not confirm such details since his men were not at the scene when the attack occurred. He said the contractor convoy was protected by a separate U.S. unit and his soldiers responded to the attack because the convoy was traveling through their district.

"Task Force Liberty soldiers, which have a forward operating base in that area, responded to assist the convoy, administered first aid to two wounded contractors and evacuated the remains of four contractors killed," Goldenberg said.

He said the attack caused no U.S. military casualties, but that his men, acting on a tip, returned to the area two days later to detain an individual suspected of ties to the attack and killed two insurgents after coming under fire.

The incident recalled a similar attack in March 2004, when a mob of Iraqis in the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah killed four U.S. security contract workers, mutilated their bodies and hanged them from a bridge.

The next month, U.S. Marines launched a major siege of Fallujah, but withdrew weeks later with insurgents still in the city. A second offensive was launched last November, ending with American troops seizing the city, west of Baghdad.