BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- The number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq rose to 1,500
after the military announced Thursday that a soldier was killed in action just
south of the capital, an Associated Press count showed.
The latest fatality occurred Wednesday in Babil province, part of an area known
as the "Triangle of Death" because of the frequency of insurgent attacks
on U.S.- and Iraqi-led forces there.
In eastern Baghdad, two suicide car bombs exploded outside the Interior Ministry,
killing at least two policemen and wounding five others, police Maj. Jabar Hassan
said. Officials at nearby al-Kindi hospital said 15 people were injured in the
Hassan said the car bombers had been trailing a police convoy that was trying
to enter the ministry. Iraqi security forces opened fire on the vehicles and
disabled them before they could arrive at a main checkpoint outside the building,
said Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
"Casualties were very small because they didn't get to the checkpoint,"
Meanwhile, talks aimed at forging a new coalition government faltered Wednesday
over Kurdish demands for more land and concerns that the dominant Shiite alliance
seeks to establish an Islamic state, delaying the planned first meeting of Iraq's
The snag in negotiations between Shiite and Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq
came as clashes and two other car bombings in Baghdad on Wednesday killed at
least 14 Iraqi soldiers and police officers - the latest in a relentless wave
of violence since elections Jan. 30.
The group led by Iraq's most wanted terrorist, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, purportedly
claimed responsibility in an Internet posting for Wednesday's clashes and at
least one of the bombings. It also claimed responsibility for a suicide car
bombing Monday that killed 125 people in Hillah, a town south of the capital.
National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie vowed the attacks would not derail
the political process. "The Iraqi government will go after and hunt down
each and every one of these terrorists whether in Iraq or elsewhere," he
The U.S. soldier killed Wednesday was assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary
Force and died "while conducting security and stability operations,"
the military said without elaborating.
As is customary, the name of the soldier was withheld pending notification
U.S. troops are killed nearly every day in Iraq.
The latest death brought to at least 1,500 the number of members of the U.S.
military who have died since the U.S.-led war in Iraq began in March 2003, according
to an Associated Press count. At least 1,140 died as a result of hostile action,
according to the Defense Department. The figures include four military civilians.
Since May 1, 2003, when President Bush declared that major combat operations
in Iraq had ended, 1,362 U.S. military members have died, according to AP's
count. That includes at least 1,030 deaths resulting from hostile action, according
to the military's numbers.
The tally was compiled by the AP based on Pentagon records and AP reporting.
The U.S. exit strategy is dependent on handing over responsibility for security
to Iraq's fledgling army and police forces. Forming Iraq's first democratically
elected coalition government is turning out to be a laborious process.
Shiite and Kurdish leaders, Iraq's new political powers, failed to reach agreement
after two days of negotiations in the northern city of Irbil, with the clergy-backed
candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, leaving with only half the
deal he needed.
The Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which has 140 seats in the 275-member
National Assembly, hopes to win backing from the 75 seats held by Kurdish political
parties so it can muster the required two-thirds majority to insure control
of top posts in the new government.
Al-Jaafari indicated after the talks that the alliance was ready to accept
a Kurdish demand that one of its leaders, Jalal Talabani, become president.
However, he would not commit to other demands, including the expansion of Kurdish
autonomous areas south to the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
Kurdish leaders have demanded constitutional guarantees for their northern
regions, including self-rule and reversal of the "Arabization" of
Kirkuk and other northern areas. Saddam Hussein relocated Iraqi Arabs to the
region in a bid to secure the oil fields there.
Politicians had hoped to convene the new parliament by Sunday. But Ali Faisal,
of the Shiite Political Council, said the date was now "postponed"
and that a new date had not been set.
The Kurds, he added, were "the basis of the problem" in the negotiations.
"The Kurds are wary about al-Jaafari's nomination to head the government.
They are concerned that a strict Islamic government might be formed," al-Faisal
said. "Negotiations and dialogue are ongoing."
In another twist, alliance deputy and former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi
was to meet Thursday with interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose party won
40 seats in the assembly. It was unclear why the meeting between the two rivals
was taking place.
Both Allawi and Chalabi are secular Shiites opposed to making Iraq an Islamic
state. Concerns over a possible theocracy are especially pertinent because the
main task of the new assembly will be to write a constitution.
Associated Press writers Sameer N. Yacoub, Patrick Quinn, Todd Pitman and Antonio
Castaneda in Baghdad contributed to this report