BAGHDAD, Iraq – Nine American soldiers were killed in Iraq on Monday, including eight who died in vehicle accidents that also claimed the lives of two detainees, the military said.
The deadliest of the vehicle accidents, in western Baghdad, killed seven Multi-National Division — Baghdad soldiers and wounded 11, and left two detainees dead and a third injured. The cause of the accident was under investigation, the military said.
In a separate accident, east of Baghdad, an American soldier was killed and two injured when their vehicle flipped and caught fire. A ninth soldier died of injuries sustained Sunday while on patrol in the Kirkuk area of northern Iraq.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told lawmakers Monday that Iraqi forces were not ready to take over security from the U.S. military across the country.
"There have been tangible improvements in security in the recent period in Baghdad and the provinces but it is not enough," he told parliament. "Despite the security improvement, we still need more efforts and time in order for our armed forces to be able to take over security in all Iraqi provinces from the multinational forces that helped us in a great way in fighting terrorism and outlaws."
Al-Maliki made the comment hours before the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus appeared in the U.S. Congress to deliver reports on Iraq's progress amid a debate over calls to start bringing American troops home.
Al-Maliki said that violence had dropped 75 percent in the Baghdad area since the U.S. began pouring in additional troops at the start of the year. He gave no figures.
"The key to reconstruction, economic development and improving peoples' standard of living is security," he said.
Still, attacks in the capital have picked up in recent days in the run-up to the report and as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nears.
Early in the day, U.S. and Iraqi troops backed by helicopters killed three civilians in the Shiite slum of Sadr City in a raid on the home of a suspected militia leader, police and residents said.
Ground forces searched four houses in the pre-dawn raid but failed to find the suspect, U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl said. He identified the suspect only as a "a criminal militia special group commander," a term associated with splinter factions of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
A bomb blew up around noon near the Shiite Buratha mosque in northern Baghdad, killing two civilians and wounding six others, police said.
In northern Iraq, about 50 miles west of Mosul, a homicide car bomber targeting a Kurdish military headquarters near Tal Afar killed eight people and injured 20 others, Tal Afar mayor Najim Abdullah said. The Iraqi army had reported that the suicide bomber hit the headquarters, but Abdullah said guards opened fire on the speeding car and it had detonated some 100 yards away, and that the casualties were civilians.
In an afternoon attack in Mosul itself, three policemen were killed when unknown gunmen attacked a checkpoint, police said.
Amid the violence, Al-Maliki was called before parliament to give his own assessment of the security situation in Iraq. Despite intense U.S. pressure to move ahead with 18 benchmark laws — including one that will allow for the reintegration of members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party into political life and another on oil revenue sharing — none have yet been taken up by parliament for discussion.
The so-called de-Baathification draft law was finally presented by al-Maliki's Cabinet to parliament on Monday, and the legislature scheduled discussion to begin on it next week, said Wissam al-Zubaidi, an adviser to deputy parliament speaker Khaled al-Attiyah.
Though his government has been widely criticized for failing to bridge sectarian divides, al-Maliki insisted that progress had been made.
"We have achieved success in preventing Iraq from going into sectarian war and I am fully confident that national reconciliation is our only way that takes Iraq into safety," al-Maliki said.
Salim Abdullah al-Jubouri, a representative of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is part of the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, the Iraqi Accordance Front, agreed with al-Maliki's assessment of the security situation.
"The Iraqi security forces are not yet ready for filling the security gap that would follow a possible U.S. troop withdrawal," al-Jubouri told The AP in a phone interview. "Iraqi forces might be able to face such a state after a certain period of time if they would be properly equipped and prepared."
But politically, al-Jubouri said al-Maliki did not address the real issues in his comments.
"He should have better emphasized the civil peace and national reconciliation, and on how a successful political process should be realized," he said. "There are many demands which have not been fulfilled or looked into by the Maliki government."
In the Sunni city of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi troops got into a fierce firefight with suspected Al Qaeda in Iraq fighters in a morning assault. Twelve of the insurgents were killed and three U.S. soldiers were wounded, the military said in a statement.
U.S. and Iraqi forces came under heavy from insurgents inside buildings while clearing the area, the military said.
The ground forces returned fire, while AH-64 Apache helicopters provided support from the air.
Three Al Qaeda suspects were also detained, while a fourth person at the scene was identified as a hostage being held for ransom.
The injured soldiers were taken to Balad Air Base for treatment and were all in stable condition, the U.S. military said.