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Insurgent Ambush Kills 24; One U.S. Marine Among Dead

An ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol northwest of Baghdad left 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a U.S. Marine dead from a roadside bomb and the firefight that followed, a U.S. military statement said Sunday.

The attack began Saturday with a roadside bomb detonating next to the Marine's vehicle in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said.

Fifteen Iraqi civilians also were killed by the blast, which was followed by an insurgent shooting attack, the statement said.

"Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another," the statement said.

At least 2,091 members of the U.S. military have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The toll includes five soldiers who died Saturday in a pair of roadside bombings near Beiji, 155 miles north of Baghdad, and a soldier who died in a U.S. hospital in Germany from injuries suffered Thursday when his vehicle was rammed by an Iraqi car near Beiji.

Britain's Defense Ministry also said Sunday that a British soldier was killed and four were wounded in a roadside bombing near Basra in southern Iraq. Basra is the main base for British forces in the region.

The death brings the number of British troops killed in Iraq to 98, the ministry said.

With less than a month to go before Iraq's Dec. 15 parliamentary vote, an electoral commission official said Sunday that hospital patients, prisoners and members of the Iraqi security forces will be allowed to vote three days early.

The "special voting" will take place Dec. 12, Farid Ayar said. The rest of the country will vote Dec. 15 for legislators serving four-year terms, he said.

Past voting in Iraq has involved massive security operations to ensure a peaceful vote. U.S. and Iraqi officials hope the country's Sunni Muslim minority will participate in large numbers following widespread boycotts of votes in the past.

In western Baghdad, hundreds of marching Iraqis — mostly Sunnis — demanded an end to the torture of detainees and called for the international community to pressure Iraqi and U.S. authorities to ensure that such abuse does not occur.

Anger over detainee abuse has increased sharply since U.S. troops found 173 detainees at an Interior Ministry prison in Baghdad's Jadriyah neighborhood. The detainees, mainly Sunnis, were found malnourished and some had torture marks on their bodies. Sunni Arabs dominate the insurgent ranks.

Carrying posters of tortured detainees, disfigured dead bodies and U.S. troops detaining locals, the nearly 400 demonstrators marched from the office of the Front for National Dialogue, a Sunni political group, a few hundreds yards in the western neighborhood of Jamia before dispersing peacefully.

"We condemn torture and we call on the United Nations and the international community to put pressure on the Iraqi government and the Americans," Ali al-Saadoun, of the Sunni Muslim group, told the demonstrators. "We want all the detainees released."

The demonstration came as Iraqi officials met in Egypt at a reconciliation conference organized by the Arab League.

Rzeika Feil came from Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, to participate.

"We came here to condemn the acts of the government in its prison against our sons held there," the 45-year-old housewife said.

Iraq's Shiite-led government has promised an investigation and punishment for anyone guilty of torture. Attacks against Shiite civilians by Sunni religious extremists have occurred throughout the Iraq conflict but spiked since the detainees were found last weekend.

Since Friday, at least 125 Iraqi civilians have been killed in bombings and homicide attacks. They include 76 people who died in near-simultaneous homicide bombings at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin along the Iranian border. Four people have been arrested, including one believed to have been planning another suicide attack, a security officer in Khanaqin said.

On Saturday, a homicide bomber detonated his car in a crowd of Shiite mourners north of Baghdad, killing at least 36 people.

The bomb exploded late in the afternoon as mourners offered condolences to Raad Majid, head of the municipal council in the village of Abu Saida, over the death of his uncle. Abu Saida is near Baqouba, a religiously mixed city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.

Police said about 50 people were injured. On Oct. 29, a bomb hidden in a truck loaded with dates exploded in another Shiite community in the same area, killing 30 people.

Hospital facilities were so crowded that dazed and bloodied survivors — many with serious injuries — lay in agony on gurneys in the hallways because of the surgery backlog. Doctors and nurses in blood-spattered white uniforms rushed from gurney to gurney trying to determine who to treat first.

Earlier, a car bomb exploded among shoppers at an outdoor market in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in southeast Baghdad, killing 13 people and wounding about 20 others, police reported. Witnesses said they saw a man park the car and walk away shortly before the blast.

In Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said police and U.S. soldiers surrounded a house before dawn Saturday after reports that Al Qaeda in Iraq members were inside, said Brig. Said Ahmed al-Jubouri, a Mosul police spokesman.

As a fierce gunbattle broke out, three insurgents detonated explosives and killed themselves to avoid capture. Five more died fighting, while four police officers also were killed. Al-Jubouri said officials were attempting to identify the dead insurgents.

In Baghdad, the U.S. command confirmed the firefight and said 11 U.S. soldiers, nine Iraqi army troops and one policeman were wounded. The U.S. statement put the insurgent death toll at seven.

In Jordan, family members of Jordanian-born Al Qaeda in Iraq chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi renounced the terror leader, whose group claimed responsibility for Nov. 9 homicide attacks on three Amman hotels that killed 59 other people.

The family of al-Zarqawi, whose real name is Ahmed Fadheel Nazzal al-Khalayleh, reiterated their strong allegiance to Jordan's King Abdullah II in half-page advertisements in the kingdom's three main newspapers. Al-Zarqawi threatened to kill the king in an audiotape released Friday.