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7 US troops killed in Iraq violence

40 militants die in weekend raids on insurgent area

BAGHDAD -- Insurgents shot down a US helicopter during a raid against Al Qaeda militants south of Baghdad and killed two soldiers, bringing the weekend death toll of American service members to seven, the US military said yesterday.

The military also said American forces killed more than 40 militants, including an Al Qaeda operative, in five raids south of Baghdad in an area commonly known as the ''Triangle of Death" because of the large number of insurgent attacks.

The US hopes a national unity government that includes Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Kurds will sap the insurgency's strength, but Iraqi politicians struggled against a deadline to form such a government. And with at least 20 Iraqis killed in shootings and roadside bombings yesterday, sectarian violence showed no signs of abating.

The helicopter was downed after a US operation in Youssifiyah, about 12 miles south of Baghdad. The Mujahedeen Shura Council, a coalition of insurgent groups that includes Al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility in a statement posted on the Internet.

Other Americans killed over the weekend included two US Marines who died Sunday during unspecified ''enemy action" in Anbar Province, in the heart of the Sunni-led insurgency. Two soldiers died Sunday in a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, and another died in a roadside bomb in the capital Saturday.

The deaths raised to at least 2,443 the number of US military personnel who have died since the war began in 2003, according to a count by the Associated Press.

The five US raids south of Baghdad resulted in the killing of an Al Qaeda militant blamed for an April 1 attack in the same area that downed a US Apache helicopter and killed two soldiers.

An Al Qaeda group had claimed responsibility for downing the Apache and posted a video on the Internet showing men dragging the burning body of what appeared to be an American soldier.

Also yesterday, insurgents fired more than 30 mortar rounds at a British military camp in southern Iraq, wounding four soldiers.

Six British soldiers have been killed and five wounded over the past nine days.

Yesterday's violence took place as Iraqi lawmakers alternately withdrew from the Cabinet negotiations or threatened to do so, and accused one another of greed, sectarianism, and self-interest.

Deputies said Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki could announce a partial Cabinet ahead of a constitutionally mandated May 22 deadline, taking for himself the disputed defense and interior ministry posts. President Jalal Talabani, however, rejected that option.

In Balad Ruz, 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen yesterday pulled three teachers and their driver from a minibus and killed them. In addition to the 20 Iraqis killed around Iraq yesterday, five corpses were found in western Baghdad.

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