BAGHDAD, Iraq – An Al Qaeda-linked (search ) homicide bomber blew up his vehicle Monday near cars waiting to enter the Green Zone, home to the U.S. Embassy and Iraq's interim government, killing 13 Iraqis on the anniversary of Saddam Hussein's (search) capture.
Early Tuesday, the military reported two more U.S. Marines were killed in action in Iraq's (search) volatile western Anbar province, taking the number of Marines killed in the region in the past three days to 10.
As insurgents continued to step up attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces ahead of next month's elections, the country's interim president said Washington was wrong for dismantling Iraq's security forces, including its 350,000-strong army, after last year's invasion.
"Definitely dissolving the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Interior was a big mistake," Ghazi al-Yawer told British Broadcasting Corp. radio, saying it would have been more effective to screen out former regime loyalists than to rebuild from scratch.
He added: "As soon as we have efficient security forces that we can depend on we can see the beginning of the withdrawal of forces from our friends and partners and I think it doesn't take years, it will take months."
U.S. military commanders, however, say American forces will be in Iraq for several years and that troop numbers will rise from 138,000 to 150,000 before the Jan. 30 national elections, which many Iraqis fear could be targeted by militants opposed to the occupation and bent on derailing the political process.
American and Iraqi leaders had hoped the ouster of Saddam — who was captured one year ago Monday on a farm near his hometown of Tikrit — and the detention or death of most of his top aides would deal the insurgency a knockout blow.
But the uprising has escalated and the number of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces risen steadily. About 550 U.S. soldiers died in the first year after the invasion was launched; almost 750 troops have died in the nine months that followed.
Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's (search) Al Qaeda in Iraq group claimed credit for Monday's deadly attack in central Baghdad, where a homicide car bomber detonated his explosives-packed car near a checkpoint leading into the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing 13 Iraqis and wounding 15. No U.S. troops were injured.
A U.S. soldier with the 1st Corps Support Command was killed and another wounded Monday in a vehicle accident near a military base in Balad, 50 miles north of the capital. It was unclear what caused the accident.
Two Marines assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force were killed in action Monday "while conducting security and stabilization operations" in the vast Anbar province west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.
Seven Marines died in action Sunday in Anbar, the deadliest day for the Marines since eight of their service members were killed by a car bomb Oct. 30 outside Fallujah. Another Marine was killed Saturday.
The deaths brought to nearly 1,300 the number of American troops killed in Iraq since the invasion in March 2003.
It was unclear where in Anbar the Marines were killed, but the province includes the turbulent cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Fallujah witnessed a bloody weeklong offensive last month to uproot extremist Islamic militants. Fifty-four Americans were among the hundreds who died in the battle, in which U.S. and Iraqi forces retook the city from insurgents and radical Islamic clerics who had ruled it since Marines lifted a three-week siege in April.
After last month's campaign, U.S. commanders claimed they had broken the insurgency's back in the mainly Sunni Muslim areas of western Iraq, and that they would start phasing in Iraqi security forces to take over. But fighting has persisted.
On Sunday, American jets dropped 10 precision-guided missiles on insurgent positions in Fallujah after insurgents fought running battles with coalition forces.
"We are still running into some of these die-hard insurgents that have either come back into the city or have been laying low," spokesman Lt. Lyle Gilbert said. "As we are bringing in contractors to help with the reconstruction of Fallujah, this (fighting) slows the process down."
Farther west in Ramadi, 10 explosions were heard early Monday. No details were available on what caused them or if there were casualties. In the northern city of Mosul, a car bomb struck a U.S. Stryker brigade patrol Monday, wounding two American soldiers and sparking a gunbattle.
In Tarmiyah, on Baghdad's northern outskirts, three more U.S. troops were wounded in a car bombing that wrecked two Humvees, pieces of which were raised into the air by jubilant Iraqi men who danced around their charred hulks and a large crater blown into the road.
Eight of Saddam's 11 detained top lieutenants went on hunger strikes over the weekend to demand jail visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross, but were eating again by Monday, a U.S. military spokesman said. The former dictator never joined the protest, the military said.
"They don't acknowledge the legality of their trials or their detention," said lawyer, Badee Izzat Aref, an Iraqi appointed by the family of former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.
The detainees have been held for months in an undisclosed location, believed to be near the Baghdad International Airport, west of the capital.
In Rome, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari assured Pope John Paul II that Saddam and other former regime members would be treated fairly and brought to trial as soon as possible after the January elections. "The same justice they denied us we are going to give it to them," he said.