A suicide car bomber killed seven people after targeting a checkpoint at Baghdad's Green Zone early yesterday, the second attack in two days at the district that houses Iraq's interim government and the US embassy, officials said.
In western Iraq, two US Marines were killed in action, the military said yesterday, bringing the number of Marines killed in the region over three days to 10.
A military statement said the two Marines were assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and died Monday "while conducting security and stabilization operations" in the vast Anbar province west of Baghdad, which includes the battleground cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
Seven other Marines died in action on Sunday in Anbar and a 10th was killed on Saturday. The US military did not provide details of their death, but they brought to nearly 1,300 the number of US troops killed in Iraq since the invasion in March last year.
As insurgents pressed forward with attacks ahead of next month's elections, the country's interim president Ghazi al-Yawer told BBC radio, that "as soon as we have efficient security forces ... 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."
US military commanders, however, say US 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.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers arrived yesterday in Iraq for a morale boosting visit to the troops. US celebrities, including actor Robin Williams, former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway and sportscaster Leeann Tweeden, accompanied him.
"Our troop levels will be at 150,000 for the elections and a little bit after," Myers said, adding that events on the ground would determine whether those numbers will be scaled down after the ballot.
Myers predicted that last month's US-led offensive to retake the western rebel stronghold of Fallujah would undercut the rebellion by denying the guerrillas a sanctuary from which they could launch attacks with relative impunity.
"They will try to move to other locations but I don't think they are going to find any location as satisfactory as Fallujah was for their operational planning and facilitation of what they were doing," he said.
Sunday's blast at the Green Zone killed seven people and wounded at least 13 people, said Hassan AbdelSatar from Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital.