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U.S. casualties will rise in next 90 days, commander says

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The U.S. military announced the deaths of 11 U.S. soldiers killed in combat along with an embedded journalist Sunday, and Iraqi officials said 163 civilians were killed or injured across the country.

But still more carnage is likely over the next three months as additional U.S. forces arrive in Baghdad under President Bush's troop "surge" because "we're taking the fight to the enemy," a top U.S. military commander warned.

Six of the American soldiers and a journalist working for a Russian publication were killed in Diyala Sunday when a roadside bomb struck the vehicle in which they were traveling, the U.S. military said in a statement. No other details were immediately available.

"There are going to be increased (U.S.) casualties during this surge because we're taking the fight to the enemy," said Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, 3rd Infantry Division commander who oversees four of the five surge brigades. "We're going to do everything we can do to preclude that from happening."

But he added: "This is indeed combat operations. This is indeed war. And it's against a lethal enemy."

Four of the five brigades expected in Iraq have arrived and the last brigade should be in Iraq by June 1, said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesman for the military.

"It may get harder before it gets easier for the Iraqis," Caldwell said.

Hours earlier a double car bombing underscored his statement. In the marketplace and near a bus station in west Baghdad, at least 35 people were killed and 80 wounded. Residents yelled: "Where is the security plan? Where is the Maliki government?"

Dhiya Abu Mohammed ran to check on his son when he heard the booms of two car bombs resonate near his house in the Shiite neighborhood of Bayaa. Pools of blood covered the pavement in the marketplace and outside a bus station. Fruit, vegetables and body parts covered the road and Abu Mohammed wept as he rushed to help the wounded into pickup trucks.

In one mini-bus, a mother and her two daughters were dead, the children still clutching their teddy bears. Sprawled on the road was a bleeding pregnant woman, shrapnel piercing her belly.

Abu Mohammed was lucky. His own son, who typically passes through the marketplace on his way home from university, had been spared.

"They targeted us because we are Shiite," he said.

Also Sunday a gun battle raged between U.S. troops and gunmen in Sadr City for almost five hours, residents said. The U.S. military searched the area to pick up members of a Shiite cell suspected of kidnappings, weapons smuggling from Iran, and sending militants to Iran to train, the U.S. military said. In one home they came under fire and discovered a "torture room" with blood on the floor and handcuffs on the wall, along with more than 150 mortars and bomb making materials for explosively formed penetrators, a bomb believed to be built Iran.

The U.S. military evacuated the homes around it and detonated the building, Caldwell said.

A Sadr official said the home belongs to Sheikh Azhar al-Nimrawi, a Sadr member.

A local hospital said they'd received at least 20 wounded people and the U.S. military said 10 armed men were killed.

Sadr City is a Mahdi Army controlled neighborhood, and the militia there have largely allowed U.S. troops to search the area without retribution after orders from anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to lay low during the Baghdad Security Plan. But on Sunday morning, gunmen fought back as U.S. soldiers tried to enter the artillery-filled home. Residents said at least one civilian was killed.

In Samarra, where a major Shiite shrine was destroyed last year, seven policemen including the police chief were killed in a car bombing at the police headquarters. After the morning bombing Iraqi soldiers and police flooded the city and the city was put under curfew.

In a sign that sectarian violence is on the rise again, 25 bodies, often attributed to Shiite death squads, were found throughout the city. Almost all of the bodies turned up in contested neighborhoods west of the Tigris River where the Mahdi Army loyal to Sadr and Sunni insurgent groups are fighting for control.

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(McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Laith Hammoudi contributed to this report.)

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