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Eight Marines die in Iraq in bloodiest day for U.S. military since May

BAGHDAD, Iraq—In the bloodiest day for the U.S. military in Iraq since May, eight Marines were killed and nine more were wounded Saturday in a car bomb attack in the restive Iraqi province of Al Anbar, where a major U.S. assault on the rebel city of Fallujah seemed imminent.

In Baghdad, an afternoon car bomb killed at least eight Iraqis and injured more than a dozen in front of the offices of Al-Arabiya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel, police and hospital officials said.

A few hours later a rocket apparently meant for the U.S. administrative "Green Zone" slammed into an Iraqi home, killing six and leaving adults and children as charred remains.

There also were reports that Iraqi security forces opened fire on traffic in a town south of Baghdad, killing more than a dozen Iraqis with indiscriminate shooting in the aftermath of an attack on U.S. soldiers. Iraqi government officials said that they could not confirm the reports.

Almost halfway through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Iraq appeared to be slipping further into the violence and bloodshed that has plagued it for more than a year and a half of American occupation and Iraqi insurgency. Many in the country are expecting a major offensive by insurgents before Ramadan is over, perhaps timed to coincide with U.S. elections or a Marine assault on Fallujah.

U.S. troops continued to form a cordon around Fallujah, blocking main roads and pushing in from the south as another round of air strikes hit the city.

Residents in Fallujah, though, said a Marine convoy advanced toward the southern edge of the city and was met by gunfire and explosions. Witness accounts described a barrage of U.S. artillery fire and intermittent missile strikes shaking the city for much of the day.

At Yarmuk Hospital in Baghdad, women were crying and shouting in the emergency room corridor as they looked for relatives from the Al-Arabiya bombing. In the blur of the scene, a policeman drew his pistol on the crowd and yelled "Get out! Clear the way!" so nurses could bring more patients inside.

Asked how many wounded had come through, a doctor rushing by turned for a moment and said there were 15 to 20, but it was hard to keep count.

In front of the Arabiya offices, plastic bags covered three dead bodies on the road. Iraqi police said there were at least five more bodies in the office.

"We couldn't confirm their identities because the bodies were mutilated and torn into pieces by the explosion," said Arabiya senior correspondent Ahmed Saleh.

The blast shattered windows for blocks, damaged some 30 vehicles and left a hole in the street that witnesses said looked to be about 10 feet wide and four feet deep.

Asked who he thought was behind the bombing—delivered by an explosive-laden Chevrolet Malibu parked on the street—Arabiya reporter Jawad Hatab said he didn't know their names, but he knew their motivation.

"They don't want the truth about what's happening in Iraq to reach the world," said Hatab, whose head was bleeding after being hit by shards of glass.

A militant group calling itself the "1920 Brigades"—named after the 1920 Iraqi revolution - reportedly took credit for the attacks, accusing Arabiya of acting as a mouthpiece for the American presence in Iraq. It was not possible to verify the claim.

At nightfall in Fallujah, there was still heavy gunfire, witnesses said. While Marines established checkpoints around the city, closer in there were checkpoints manned by insurgent fighters clad in black and holding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. There was no indication of exactly when the Marines would push ahead en masse to take the city.

Fallujah has been out of U.S. control since April, when Marines aborted a mission to retake the territory amidst political pressure from Iraqi politicians and other Arab countries.

There are still negotiations going on between representatives of the city and Iraq's interim government, and Marine commanders have said they will not start their attack until given word by Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. The conditions that Allawi has set for peace seem unlikely to be met, including the expulsion of foreign fighters, including alleged Jordanian terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who is said to be in Fallujah.

In written remarks earlier this week, Allawi said that his administration "had little option but to act decisively in Fallujah if rapid progress towards a political solution could not be made."

Some observers took the Marine incursions around Fallujah Saturday as a sign that the time for talk was coming to an end.

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(Knight Ridder special correspondent Omar Jassim contributed to this report along with a correspondent in Fallujah whose name was withheld for security reasons.)

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

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