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7 U.S. Marines killed in attack near Fallujah

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A suicide bomber killed seven Marines and three Iraqi national guardsmen on Monday near Fallujah, just hours after the U.S. military announced it would try to find ways to restore security in the insurgent-controlled city.

The soldiers and the Marines were traveling in a convoy around 10:30 a.m. when a suicide bomber drove by and detonated a car loaded with explosives, destroying their Humvees. The names of the dead were not immediately released.

It was the deadliest attack on the U.S. military in more than four months.

The U.S. military in May declared Fallujah a no-go zone after engaging in heavy fighting with insurgents. A "no-go zone" generally refers to a place where foreigners cannot travel safely and where the military cannot enter because insurgents—not appointed interim government officials—are in control.

Before the attack on Monday, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz said the military might return to Fallujah to wrest control from the insurgents so that residents could vote in January.

Also on Monday, the U.S. military released figures that underscore the increasing dangers American soldiers face in Iraq.

Multinational soldiers were attacked about 2,000 times in August, or 67 times a day, a record since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, said Lt. Col. Steve Boyle, a military spokesman. In July, the U.S.-led coalition said it was attacked about 1,000 times or 37 times a day.

Boyle attributed the rise to the fighting in Najaf.

To address the attacks, the military has ruled some cities are no-go zones. Most recently, the military called the northern city Samarra a no-go zone. The list also includes Fallujah and Ramadi in central Iraq and Kufa and Latifiya in the south.

The U.S. military has greater skill and technological superiority over the insurgents, but is trying to limit fighting that could lead to high numbers of casualties.

Since the beginning of military operations in March 2003, 985 U.S. service members have died in Iraq, according to the Defense Department.

Also, the Iraqis often do not want the American troops patrolling the cities, saying the U.S. military presence is what is inciting the fighting. They insist the Iraqi police and military can contain the violence. The interim government has asked the U.S. military to leave some cities.

"We are working together, which is much better," said Dr. Sabah Kadhim, a Ministry of Interior spokesman. "I think we seem to be taking the initiative not waiting to be attacked."

But the interim government is also responsible for holding elections, and its officials say they cannot do it in many of the no-go zones cities.

Metz told reporters near Baghdad International Airport that the military had four months to try to establish security in Fallujah and other no-go zones so that residents there could take part in the national elections in January. "And then I've got the rest of January to help the Iraqis to put the mechanisms in place," Metz said.

Metz said the solution would not necessarily be a military one. The military could meet with leaders and urge them to put insurgents to stop the violence, warning them that they could face a devastating U.S. attack otherwise.

"If you're a leader in a town ... do you want to have to go rebuild it because it got destroyed, because foreign fighters came to hang out in your city? They can help us make these decisions," Metz said.

Metz called the January elections the next milestone for Iraq, and many residents and academics agree. But they disagree on what effect the violence will have on the government's ability to execute the elections.

Juan Cole, a professor of a professor of Middle East studies at the University of Michigan who specializes in Shiite Islam, said the insurgency would most likely affect elections in the Sunni triangle. In other parts of the country, religious and tribal leaders in the south and north will orchestrate the elections in their communities, Cole believes.

"The Americans can't make the elections happen. The Iraqis have to make it happen," Cole said.

In other developments, the Iraqi government said Saddam Hussein will face a trial within weeks. Adnan Ali Hadi, a spokesman for Vice president Ibrahim al Jafari, said the government feels prepared to hold the trial and that Saddam's attorneys have had enough time to prepare his defense.


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