BAGHDAD, Iraq – A homicide bomber in an explosives-rigged car killed six Iraqi soldiers he'd lured from behind a checkpoint on Friday, while the Iraqi army said it captured the Egyptian leader of an Al Qaeda cell in restive Anbar province.
State television, meanwhile, said the speaker of Iraq's parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, was visiting neighboring Iran for an international conference, and the U.S. military announced the deaths of two soldiers and a Marine.
Army spokesman Brig. Najim Abdullah said the suicide bomber stopped his car after soldiers opened fire as it sped toward the checkpoint at about the 2:00 p.m. local time in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad.
The unit's commander, Col. Abdul-Karim Jassim, was leading a group of soldiers toward it, when the driver, apparently faking death, detonated his explosives, Abdullah said. Jassim was among those killed, while eight civilians were also injured,
Earlier in the day, Iraqi soldiers arrested the Al Qaeda commander in Rawah, Abu Muhayyam al-Masri, a pseudonym meaning, "the Egyptian," a Defense Ministry official said.
The overall leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq is an Egyptian Abu Ayyub al-Masri, although it wasn't clear if there was any connection between the men.
Two deputy leaders of the Rawah cell, Abu Issam al-Libi, or "the Libyan," and Abu Zaid al-Suri, "the Syrian," were also arrested, along with nine other fighters, said the official, who asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Thousands of foreign fighters are said by Iraq's government to have crossed the porous border with Syria, about 55 miles west of Rawah, in order to join the insurgency.
The official said al-Suri confessed to being responsible for organizing at least one suicide bombing in Baghdad. A large quantity of weapons was also seized in the raid, he said.
Rawah lies deep in Anbar province, where Sunni Arab insurgents routinely launch deadly attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces that show no sign of diminishing in numbers or intensity, more than three years after the U.S. invasion.
The U.S. military said two American soldiers assigned to the 89th Military Police Brigade died when the vehicle they were traveling in was hit by a roadside bomb at 12:48 p.m. (0948 GMT) on Thursday in western Baghdad. It said another soldier was wounded in the incident, but gave no details about those injuries.
It said the Marine, assigned toRegimental Combat Team 5, died Thursday from wounds suffered in fighting in Anbar.
The names of those killed were being withheld until their families could be notified.
The latest casualties bring the death toll among American forces in Iraq this month to 23 -- at least 11 of them killed in Anbar province. Most others died in the Baghdad area.
A least 2,844 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
At least 22 people were killed or found dead across Iraq, including six border policemen whose bodies were turned away from the morgue at Kut, 100 miles southeast of Baghdad, due to lack of space.
Three members of the same family were killed by gunmen who stormed their home at about 11:15 a.m. local time near Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, according to an officer at the Diyala provincial police information center.
Five unidentified bodies were found Thursday morning in Baqouba and Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, the Diyala officer said, speaking on routine condition of anonymity.
The new deaths came a day after Iraq's health minister estimated 150,000 civilians have been killed in the war -- about three times previously accepted estimates of 45,000-50,000 killed in the nearly 44-month-old conflict.
In comments to The Associated Press during a visit to Vienna, Austria, Ali al-Shemari said he based his figure on an estimate of 100 bodies per day brought to morgues and hospitals -- though such a calculation would come out closer to 130,000 in total.
"It is an estimate," al-Shemari said. He blamed Sunni insurgents, Wahhabis -- Sunni religious extremists -- and criminal gangs for the deaths.
Hassan Salem, of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI, said the 150,000 figure included civilians, police and the bodies of people who were abducted, later found dead and collected at morgues run by the Health Ministry. SCIRI is Iraq's largest Shiite political organization and holds the largest number of seats in parliament.
No official account for Iraq deaths in the post-invasion conflict has ever been available and accurate figures on numbers killed are difficult to establish because police and hospitals often give widely conflicting figures of those killed in major bombings. Death figures are also reported through multiple channels by government agencies that function with varying efficiency.
It wasn't clear when al-Mashhadani, the parliament speaker, would return from Iran, where he was to attend an international meeting of national legislators.
Iran's hard-line Shiite theocracy maintains close ties to Iraq's Shiite majority, stirring suspicion among Iraq's Sunni minority. The U.S. commander in Iraq has castigated both Iran and Syria, Iraq's neighbors east and west, for trying to undermine the American effort to stabilize the country.
Al-Mashhadani, a Sunni, has been a frequent critic of the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
Most Sunni members of parliament are deeply distrustful of the dominantly Shiite security forces that have been linked to illegal militias and roving death squads. They have threatened to withdraw from government and take up arms unless militias are forcefully restrained, and have charged Shiites in the government with refusing to meet their demands for a fair division of power and natural resources.