Five U.S. Marines Slain in Western Iraq

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Five U.S. Marines were killed in fighting with Al Qaeda-led insurgents near the Syrian border and an Army soldier died of wounds suffered in Baghdad, making Wednesday the second deadliest day for American forces in Iraq this month.

Eleven other Marines were wounded Wednesday in Obeidi, 185 miles northwest of Baghdad, according to a New York Times reporter traveling with U.S. forces.

A U.S. Marine statement confirmed the five deaths but made no mention of wounded. The statement also said 16 insurgents were confirmed killed in the fighting.

Elsewhere, a soldier from the Army's Task Force Baghdad died Wednesday of wounds suffered the day before when a roadside bomb exploded northwest of the capital on the previous day, the U.S. command said. Three other soldiers were killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing in the same area. But it was unclear if the soldier who died Wednesday was injured in the same attack.

The six deaths made Wednesday the deadliest day for American forces in Iraq since Nov. 2, when seven service members died in four separate attacks. At least 51 U.S. service members have already died in Iraq this month.

For the Marines, it was the worst single-day loss since they launched an offensive Nov. 5 to push Al Qaeda-led insurgents from a series of towns along the Euphrates River used by foreign fighters to slip into the country from Syria.

A Marine statement did not give any details of the Wednesday losses, and names of the victims were withheld pending notification of their families. They were assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2 of the 2nd Marine Division.

However, the Times' embedded reporter said an explosion occurred as a squad entered a farm house in Obeidi. Insurgents then racked survivors and rescuers with small arms and grenade fire before other Marines could recover the dead and wounded and kill the attackers, the newspaper said.

A Marines statement confirmed that U.S. and Iraqi forces were meeting "strong resistance" in Obeidi — the third town attacked during the Operation Steel Curtain offensive — because insurgents there "believe they are trapped and have nowhere else to go."

The latest deaths brought to at least 2,077 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

U.S. officials say the offensive near the Syrian border is aimed in part at encouraging Sunni Arabs to vote in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections without fear of insurgent reprisals. The Bush administration hopes a successful election will encourage many in the Sunni community to abandon the insurgency.

However, Sunni Arab anger welled up Wednesday following revelations by the Shiite prime minister that 173 detainees, malnourished and some showing signs of torture, had been found in an Interior Ministry building seized by U.S. troops in Baghdad last weekend. Most were believed to be Sunni Arabs.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari promised a full investigation and punishment for anyone guilty of torture. But Sunni leaders claimed the Shiite-led security forces were trying to intimidate Sunnis from voting and demanded an international investigation.

Most insurgents are Sunnis, while Shiites and Kurds dominate the U.S.-backed security services.

Meanwhile, U.S. National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, met in Baghdad with al-Jaafari, but neither spoke to the media.

It was believed that Negroponte's visit was in connection with the arrest in neighboring Jordan of an Iraqi woman who was part of last week's deadly suicide attacks against three hotels in the capital, Amman.

Three Iraqi men carried out the attacks, but Sajida Mubarak al-Rishawi, the wife of one of the bombers, was unable to detonate her explosives belt, Jordanian police said. Al-Rishawi, from Anbar province, could yield key information on the Al Qaeda wing in Iraq, led by Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

In Berlin, German prosecutors announced Wednesday they have charged three Iraqis with plotting to kill then-Prime Minister Ayad Allawi during a visit to Germany last December. The three were believed to be members of Ansar al-Islam, a radical Islamic group linked to Al Qaeda.

France's counterterrorism chief Pierre de Bousquet said in an interview released Wednesday that French authorities have arrested about 15 people for allegedly planning to travel to Iraq to join an insurgency.

Seven French citizens have been killed in Iraq, including two suicide bombers, and about 10 are still here — two of them in U.S. custody, Bousquet told the weekly magazine Valeurs Actuelles.