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Insurgents strike in Iraq; November ties as deadliest month for U.S.

BAGHDAD, Iraq—A resurgence in armed actions broke out Tuesday in areas west of Fallujah along a key highway leading to Jordan, just weeks after a massive U.S.-led military offensive in the city.

American troops in Iraq ended November with 135 deaths, the biggest toll since April, when fighting flared across north and west Iraq in the "Sunni triangle," a region dominated by supporters of toppled Sunni Muslim dictator Saddam Hussein.

Heavily armed anti-American insurgents on Tuesday took over and briefly held nine police stations and highway checkpoints, blowing up two buildings, police said. Drivers reported that insurgents also took control of large sections of the highway leading west out of Iraq, stopping traffic and shaking down passengers.

"The government will send elements from the National Guard to control the highway since the insurgents are now controlling a large part of it," police Lt. Hameed al Delemi said.

The takeover of police installations came on a day of bombings against U.S. military convoys elsewhere. The worst was in Beiji, an oil-refining town in the north, as a U.S. military convoy went through a bustling area of shops. A car bomb killed seven civilians and wounded at least 15 people. Two of the wounded were American soldiers.

In a simultaneous attack elsewhere in Beiji, 110 miles north of Baghdad, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. tank, wounding a soldier. Five American soldiers were wounded when a suicide bomber blew up his car along the perilous road from Baghdad to its international airport, destroying an armored military truck. The blast left a large crater in the road.

U.S. forces said an American soldier died late Monday after an explosion hit his patrol north of Baghdad.

The armed actions west of Fallujah came just weeks after some 10,000 American troops stormed the city in the bloodiest urban military campaign for U.S. forces since the Vietnam War. The offensive left 53 American soldiers dead. Many U.S. troops remain in and near the city.

Insurgents blew up two badly damaged buildings Tuesday in Khaledia, between Fallujah and Ramadi, a small city on the highway leading to Jordan, police said.

"One of them was a police station. It had been attacked so many times before that one side was collapsed and it had already been evacuated," police 1st Lt. Basam al Kubaisi said. "The other building was sometimes used by the U.S. Army."

Insurgents also took over six checkpoints west of Ramadi, al Delemi said.

Raykan Ali, 34, who drives passengers between Iraq and Jordan, said insurgents stopped his vehicle, searched it and took gold jewelry from his passengers.

"I didn't see any policemen on the road. There was some American (military presence), but it was scattered," he said.

Insurgents seized other police checkpoints and stations near the town of Baghdadi, al Rutba and Tanaf, policeman Jomaa A'atia said.

"The insurgents killed one of my colleagues because he didn't give them his car, and they took two cars from the al Rutba police station and confiscated more than 25 weapons," he said.

Another highway policeman, Mohammed Hamadi, said insurgent groups seemed to be marauding for weapons, and that one of their leaders was not Iraqi.

"I think he was Saudi, and I think all of these actions happened because of the attack on Fallujah," Hamadi said.

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(A special correspondent in Fallujah, Iraq, who remains anonymous for security reasons, contributed to this report.)

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

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20041130 USIRAQ deaths

Iraq

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