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Another day of bloodshed for US troops and Iraqis

BAGHDAD -- Insurgents stepped up attacks on Iraq's fledgling security forces, killing seven Iraqi police and guardsmen yesterday in a suicide bombing hours after storming a police station north of the capital. The military reported five new US deaths.

Thirteen Marines were wounded yesterday in a mortar attack south of Baghdad, the military said. No further details were released.

Military offensives in Fallujah and elsewhere have made November the second deadliest month for US troops since the March 2003 invasion, with at least 130 American dead.

Yesterday's suicide attack occurred in Baghdadi, a Euphrates River town about 120 miles northwest of the capital, where a driver detonated his vehicle near a police checkpoint, police Lieutenant Mohammed al-Fehdawi said. A hospital official, Hatim Ahmed, confirmed seven police and Iraqi National Guard members were killed and nine were wounded.

Late Sunday, gunmen stormed a police station west of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, looted the armory, commandeered several police cars, and fled after encountering no resistance, Iraqi officials said.

US troops went to the police station yesterday morning and arrested two dozen people, police said. American officials had no comment. US and Iraqi troops recaptured Samarra from insurgents in September, but the city remains tense.

Two American soldiers from Task Force Baghdad were killed and three wounded yesterday in a roadside bomb explosion in northwestern Baghdad, the US command said. One American soldier died and two were injured in a vehicle accident 30 miles northwest of the town of Kut in eastern Iraq, the military said.

In addition, two US Marines were killed in a weekend bombing south of the capital, a US official said yesterday. US, British, and Iraqi forces have been sweeping through the area to clear Sunni insurgents from a string of towns and cities between Baghdad and the Shi'ite Muslim shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala.

Attacks have increased against US, Iraqi, and other targets on the road leading from the center of Baghdad to the city's international airport, located on the western outskirts of the capital.

The British Embassy announced yesterday that its staff would no longer be permitted to travel on the airport road, which the US State Department has identified as one of the most dangerous routes in Iraq.

''We advise against all but essential travel to Iraq," the British Embassy said in a statement. ''We urge all British nationals in Iraq to consider whether their presence in Iraq is essential at this time. Even essential travel to Iraq should be delayed, if possible."

South of the capital, US, British, and Iraqi forces pressed an offensive aimed at clearing insurgents from an area known as the ''triangle of death." Two Marines were killed there Sunday, US officials said, and British troops escaped serious injury yesterday when a bomb exploded next to a Scimitar light tank from the Queen's Dragoon Guards.

US commanders want to cut off an escape route for Fallujah fighters and pacify the area so that national elections can be held Jan. 30. Sunni Muslim clerics have called for an election boycott, and leading Sunni politicians urged the vote be postponed. Leaders from the majority Shi'ite community have demanded the elections go ahead as scheduled.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, said yesterday the US military death toll in Iraq since the American-led invasion in March 2003 stands at 1,251. At least 133 American troops have died in Iraq this month, including the two killed in Baghdad and a third who died in a vehicle accident in east-central Iraq yesterday.

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