Four US Marines died when their tank rolled off a bridge into a canal and they drowned, the military said yesterday, in a region of Iraq known as the Sunni Triangle because of heavy fighting between Sunni Arab-led insurgents and coalition forces.
The deaths were not a result of enemy reaction, the US command said, but they raised to at least 12 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq this week.
The accident occurred on Thursday when the four Marines with Regimental Combat Team 5 were traveling in a US M1A1 Main Battle Tank near Karmah, 80km west of Baghdad in Anbar Province.
The accident was under investigation, and the military said no other information was immediately available, including what kind of operation the Marines were taking part in and whether fighting with insurgents was under way in the area at that time.
Elsewhere, three US Army soldiers were killed on Thursday when roadside bombs hit two US convoys southwest of Baghdad, the military said. The US command also announced that a US soldier died on Tuesday from non-combat related wounds.
US officials hope a new unity government can win public confidence and quell the violence so that US and other international troops can go home.
But delays in the political process have led to a surge of sectarian violence, including the kidnapping and killing of civilians by death squads, raising fears of a civil war in Iraq.
That problem was obvious on Thursday, when US and Iraqi forces rescued seven Sunni Arab men seized by suspected Shiite militiamen near Baghdad.
The kidnapping was the latest in a wave that is plaguing the country, killing hundreds of people. Many of the abductions are part of the sectarian warfare in the Iraqi capital, between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
Iraqi police said the hostage drama started on Thursday morning in two Sunni villages near Khan Bani Saad, 40km northeast of Baghdad, when dozens of gunmen, some of them wearing military uniforms, abducted 10 young men.
Village leaders alerted police and US soldiers, who rushed to the scene, clashed with the gunmen and rescued seven of the hostages, police said. Three others were missing and presumed abducted.
US troops killed at least one kidnapper and wounded another, said Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Fisher, commander of the 1st Battalion, 68th Armor.
More than 30 people were taken into custody, Iraqi police said, and interrogators were trying to determine their identities. Gunmen told police they belong to a militia loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
also see story:
Life for women in Iraq is getting worse