Twelve US soldiers killed in Iraq - military
BAGHDAD, June 21 (Reuters) Twelve more US soldiers were killed in the past two days, officials said today, as the US military pressed ahead with one of its biggest operations since the 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
The relentless toll of civilian casualties continued when a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people by ramming his truck into a government building in northern Iraq, partially knocking it down and demolishing nearby homes.
Of the 12 soldiers killed, five died in a roadside bomb attack in northeastern Baghdad on Thursday, the US military said. Three Iraqi civilians and an Iraqi interpreter also died.
Another four soldiers were killed when their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb in west Baghdad yesterday. Roadside bombs are by far the biggest killers of US forces in Iraq.
Two Marines were killed in combat in western Anbar province yesterday, while a soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Baghdad, the military said. The deaths brought to 14 the number of US soldiers killed in the past 48 hours. Almost 3,550 US soldiers have been killed since the start of the unpopular war in March 2003.
Thousands of US and Iraqi soldiers today pushed on with simultaneous offensives in and around Baghdad under a new strategy, called Operation Phantom Thunder, aimed at rooting out al Qaeda fighters and other militants.
The offensives follow the build-up of US military forces in Iraq to 156,000 soldiers and aim to deny militants sanctuary in the farmlands and towns surrounding Baghdad, epicentre of Iraq's sectarian violence.
''If you've got it properly cordoned then they're going to flee into somebody's arms. It's a trap,'' US military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox told Reuters.
''To the extent that you can eliminate them, we will,'' he said, adding that there would be hard fighting over the next 45-60 days.
Military commanders have said they expect US forces to suffer greater casualties as they press on with a four-month-old Baghdad security crackdown and other operations around the capital aimed at al Qaeda.
In Sulaiman Bek, a town about 90 km (55 miles) south of the city of Kirkuk, mechanical diggers were being used to unearth victims, including women and children, from the rubble after the suicide truck blast.
Police Captain Kudhaie Mohammed said 18 people were killed and 76 wounded. Other police sources in the nearby town of Tuz Khurmato put the death toll at 15, with the mayor, police chief and other city council members among the wounded.
REUTERS SYU RN1939