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Roadside bombings in Iraq increase with deadly results

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Ten U.S. soldiers have been killed in a five-day period by roadside remote-controlled bombs in central Iraq, a surge of combat deaths that military officials are unable to explain.

Insurgents are planting 20 or fewer explosive devices each day, a number that didn't increase during the deadly period from last Wednesday through Sunday. But soldiers have failed to spot and disarm them—or detonate them from afar _resulting in 10 soldiers' deaths in five separate episodes.

"This is returning to the sad norm we had over the past couple of months," said a senior coalition military official who studies reports across Iraq and has yet to discern an explanation. "A few days does not a trend make," he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The worst incident occurred Saturday night in southern Baghdad, when a blast blew under a patrol, sending an armored vehicle rolling into a canal and killing three soldiers of the 1st Armored Division, which is headed back to Germany after nearly a year away.

The latest was at dawn Sunday in western Baghdad, when insurgents detonated a remote-controlled bomb beneath a convoy carrying new troops to their bases. A soldier with the recently arrived 1st Infantry Division died of his wounds. The Defense Department is withholding the soldiers' name until their families are notified.

Military officials said the increased combat deaths don't appear linked to an ongoing, massive American troop rotation that's sending home seasoned soldiers of the Iraqi occupation and replacing them with fresh arrivals. Of the 10 soldiers who were killed in the explosions in Baghdad, Tikrit, Fallujah and Baqouba, three had arrived in Iraq recently.

Nor do initial reports suggest that the explosive devices blamed for many U.S. casualties in the nearly year-old invasion have become more sophisticated, the senior official said.

"Over the past six to 12 months, we think we've seen the vast majority of the tricks," he said, reporting that insurgents' ingenuity has "so many tricks under the sun."

In recent months, coalition patrols have discovered—and at times disarmed—explosives-packed dog carcasses with wires protruding from them and 155 mm artillery rounds with 75 to 80 pounds of explosives daisy-chained together.

Some devices are triggered by remote control, perhaps with the garage door openers or car alarms that have poured into Iraq with the proliferation of technology here since the United Nations lifted trade sanctions after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. In response, commanders say, the American military has added armor to its Humvees and has sent out patrols in search of the devices. They've been discovering about half of them and destroying or removing them.

The official said it was "too early to tell" what's behind the recent five-day surge, which he called "clumping rather than a trend."

Nine soldiers were killed in all of February in roadside blasts, according to a review of Centcom casualty announcements, released within a day or so of the attacks.

Centcom reported 14 deaths in January from roadside bombings, 15 for December, 20 for November and 13 for October.

The coalition also announced that someone had stabbed and badly wounded a U.S. Army officer early Sunday in the so-called Green Zone, the sprawling compound once controlled by Saddam where senior coalition officials and some soldiers work and live.

Coalition workers heard a scuffle and ran out to find the soldier had been stabbed in the chest, head and neck and was unconscious. He was evacuated to Germany for medical treatment and his condition has stabilized, said Dan Senor, chief spokesman of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

Insurgents at times have exacted casualties by firing rockets and mortars into the heavily guarded area on the west bank of the Tigris River. But, Senor said, "To my knowledge this was the first attack of its kind inside the Green Zone. We do not know at this point whether or not the attacker was Iraqi or an American."


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.