BAGHDAD, Iraq – A British soldier was killed in a roadside bombing Tuesday, the second member of the country's armed forces to die in Iraq in as many days and the 100th fatality since the conflict began nearly three years ago, officials said.
Three Iraqi soldiers were killed and six wounded in a gunbattle Tuesday in Buhriz, a tense Sunni Arab town 30 miles northeast of Baghdad. Police also said a roadside bomb struck a U.S. patrol in Samarra, but there was no word on casualties.
Authorities said, meanwhile, there was no word on kidnapped U.S. journalist Jill Carroll, who appeared weeping and veiled in a new videotape aired by Al-Jazeera.
In Tokyo, Japan's Kyodo News agency said Japan will begin withdrawing its troops from Iraq in March and complete the pullout by May, ending its largest military mission since the end of World War II.
The roadside bomb exploded early Tuesday south of Basra, killing one British soldier and wounding three from the 7th Armoured Brigade, British and Iraqi officials said. Another British soldier was fatally wounded Monday in Maysan province.
Their deaths brought to 100 the number of British soldiers killed since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq — far fewer than the 2,241 American deaths. The 8,000-strong British contingent is based in the Shiite south, which is less violent than the Sunni Arab areas to the north where most of the 136,000 U.S. troops operate.
In the video broadcast on Al-Jazeera Monday, Carroll was crying and wore a conservative Islamic veil as she spoke to the camera, sitting in front of a yellow and black tapestry. The Al-Jazeera newscaster said she appealed for U.S. and Iraqi authorities to free all women prisoners to help "in winning her release."
The video was dated Saturday — two days after the U.S. military released five Iraqi women from custody. The U.S. military was believed be holding about six more. It was unclear how many women were held by Iraqi authorities.
At one point, Carroll's cracking voice can be heard from behind the news reader's voice. All that can be heard is Carroll saying "... hope for the families ..."
Carroll, 28, a freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, was seized Jan. 7 by the previously unknown Revenge Brigades, which threatened to kill her unless all women prisoners were released. Al-Jazeera did not report any deadline or threat to kill her Monday.
Japan, which extended its noncombat mission to the southern Iraqi city of Samawah for another year in December, will pull its 600 troops out at about the same time that British and Australian forces leave the area, the Kyodo News agency said.
The report said officials from Australia, Britain, Japan and the United States reached an agreement over the timing of the withdrawals at a secret meeting in London last Monday. A Japanese Defense Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing government policy, said no official decisions had been made regarding Japan's Iraq mission.
Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, said he believed U.S. troop strength would fall below 100,000 by the end of this year and that most U.S. and foreign forces would leave Iraq sometime next year. Al-Rubaie is head of a joint U.S.-Iraqi committee planning for the transfer of military installations to the Iraqis.
The Pentagon has trimmed troop strength from a high of 160,000 to about 136,000 following last month's election. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said last month that he hoped to recommend further reductions as early as spring — assuming progress such as formation of an Iraqi government.
Talks are under way among Iraq's Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish political parties on a new government to include more Sunni Arabs, the community that forms the backbone of the insurgency. However, tensions are rising over Sunni complaints of raids and arrests during counterinsurgency operations by Shiite-led government security forces.
In Baghdad, police found the bodies of 11 handcuffed, blindfolded men inside a truck Tuesday near the Ghazaliyah district of western Baghdad. Their identities were unknown but it appeared the men may have been the victims of sectarian death squads.
Three other bodies were found Tuesday in Baghdad's Rustamiyah area, a favored dumping ground for victims of sectarian reprisal killings, police said.
Shiite-led paramilitary troops backed by U.S. forces launched raids Tuesday in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, searching for suspected insurgents, police said. Police said two Iraqis were shot and killed when they violated orders for residents to stay in their homes.
Late Monday, gunmen killed the wife and two sons of a Sunni Arab cleric north of Baghdad in what authorities said appeared to be part of a campaign of reprisal killings by Sunni and Shiite extremists.
The wife and sons of cleric Qassim Daham al-Hamdani, 44, were killed in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, provincial police said. The cleric was not at the house at the time of the attack.
Elsewhere, officials began culling thousands of birds in northern Iraq and warning farmers elsewhere to inspect their flocks following the announcement that a 15-year-old girl who died Jan. 17 had contracted the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu. It was the first confirmed human case of H5N1 in the country.
A spokesman for the World Health Organization, Dick Thompson, said health authorities are also investigating two more possible bird flu cases — the girl's uncle who died Jan. 27 and a 54-year-old woman from the same region who has been hospitalized.