A bomb tore apart an armored Bradley fighting vehicle on Thursday, killing seven US soldiers, while two marines died in the volatile al-Anbar Province, in the bloodiest day for US forces so far this year.
With elections due at the end of January, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi meanwhile extended emergency laws for 30 days in a bid to thwart violence directed at keeping people away from the voting for a 275-seat parliament.
The second-in-command of US forces in Iraq told reporters that security was lacking in four provinces, where the insurgency has thrived in central Iraq's Sunni Muslim belt, but said delaying elections would be a mistake.
Despite the brave face put on plans to carry out Iraq's unprecedented free election, an internal US State Department poll obtained by AFP showed only a third of Sunni Muslims are "very likely" to vote and 88 percent said fear of attacks would keep them away.
In the northern city of Mosul, bodies of 18 Iraqis apparently lured to their deaths by promises of work at a US base were uncovered on Thursday, while in a separate development a French newspaper said one its correspondents was missing.
Iraq's neighbors meeting in Jordan, meanwhile, pledged not to interfere in elections and urged all Iraqis to vote on deciding their future.
In the bloodiest attack against US troops in the new year, seven US soldiers in a Bradley fighting vehicle when a bomb ripped a hole in the light armored tank, which is used for its maneuverablity in Baghdad's dense streets.
None of the seven soldiers in the vehicle survived the blast, in northwestern Baghdad around 6pm local time, said Captain Patricia Brewer, a Baghdad spokeswoman for the coalition forces.
In Al-Anbar Province, home to the explosive cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, two US marines were killed in action, the military said, but released no further details on the separate incidents.
In a sign of Iraq's determination to go ahead with the vote, Allawi on Thursday extended emergency measures throughout the country, except for the northern Kurdish regions, for 30 days.
The emergency law was introduced for 60 days on Nov. 7, the eve of the US assault on the former rebel-stronghold of Fallujah.
But Iraq's sizeable Sunni minority, whose many political and religious leaders are calling for a delay or boycott of the vote, still seemed unconvinced.
According to the internal state department poll, only 32 percent of Sunnis are "very likely" to vote and 88 percent said they would stay away from the polls if they feared an attack on the station.
A US official said the findings were "not surprising. It's what we expected." However, the official said efforts would continue to encourage the participation of Sunnis.
police chief killed
In other violence, the head of police in the Baghdad Shiite district of Sadr City, Abdel Karim, was gunned down in an ambush.
Four Iraqi soldiers and three civilians were also killed in separate attacks in northern Iraq.
The deputy US ground commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Thomas Metz, told reporters insurgents in Iraq are "thugs" who will not be allowed to derail the elections.
At the Taji base, north of Baghdad, the Iraqi army unveiled its new mechanized brigade, albeit with refurbished vehicles from the old army, under the gaze of Allawi and other ministers.