Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Iraq bombs kill seven US soldiers

A YEAR ON Ahead of the first anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, bombs continued tormenting US soldiers as officials sought to justify the case for war

AFP , BAGHDAD

Seven US soldiers were killed by roadside bombs in Iraq over the weekend, as top US officials sought to justify the campaign to topple former dictator Saddam Hussein despite having found no weapons of mass destruction.

As the first anniversary of the US-led war loomed, US leaders insisted Sunday that the failure to find Saddam's alleged banned weapons does not lessen the case for war.

"I do believe it was the right thing to do, and I'm glad it's done," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of administration hawks behind the invasion on March 20 last year.

Pressed about the lack of chemical and biological weapons used to justify the war, Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "I don't think this takes away from the merit of the case."

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice told NBC that Saddam headed "the most dangerous regime in the world's most dangerous region."

Powell and Rumsfeld said the US still aims to hand over power to a transitional Iraqi government on June 30. With security in the country still not under control, they acknowledged, however, many questions about the makeup of the new Iraqi government and the US role after.

Iraq and foreign policy are likely to become a focus of the campaign for the Nov. 2 US presidential election.

In Iraq, a bomb exploded late Saturday killing three troops from the 1st Armored Division as they patrolled an area in southeast Baghdad, a senior military official said.

A fourth soldier who was wounded died at a combat hospital Sunday, the Pentagon said.

Hours later, west of the city, a newly arrived US National Guard soldier was killed when the convoy he was travelling in was hit by a separate bomb attack.

Early Saturday, two US soldiers died and three were wounded in an attack on an army convoy in the center of the northern city of Tikrit.

The weekend deaths in Iraq raises to 274 the number of US soldiers killed in action since US President George W. Bush declared major hostilities over on May 1.

Homemade and roadside bombs have become the biggest killers of US military personnel in Iraq.

In Spain, the Socialist Party won Sunday's elections after an eight-year absence from power, amid massive voter turnout following Thursday's railway bombings that killed 200 and wounded 1,500.

There was widespread speculation that a claim of responsibility for the bombings by the Islamic extremist group Al-Qaeda resulted in a last-minute swing against the conservative party of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The claim, which said the bombings were revenge for Spanish support of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, appeared to have had a dramatic impact in a country where polls showed 90 percent of the people opposed Aznar's policy.

Back in the US, some 600 protesters, many of them relatives of US soldiers killed in Iraq or currently on duty in the region, marched against the war Sunday outside Dover Air Force Base in the northeastern state of Delaware.

One marcher, Al McLaine, said he had 10 relatives in the military in Iraq -- including his son, an army captain, who he said is "behind us 100 percent."

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