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9 Americans killed in insurgent attacks

Five soldiers, three contractors, embassy official among dead

BAGHDAD -- Insurgent attacks across Iraq claimed the lives of nine more Americans, the military and diplomats said yesterday. The dead included a US Embassy official and three security contractors killed Monday in a suicide car bombing in the northern city of Mosul.

Witnesses in Mosul said a lone driver smashed his red sedan into the second vehicle in a convoy of three SUVs, triggering a fiery explosion. Security forces immediately cordoned the area and administered first aid, but the contractors and an assistant regional security officer, Stephen Eric Sullivan, died instantly, according to a US official in Baghdad who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

A Vermont National Guard member is among those killed. A19

Two others riding in the diplomatic convoy, which was leaving a US Embassy satellite office, suffered minor injuries.

Sullivan was the third American diplomat killed since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Diplomatic security agent Edward Seitz died in October in a mortar attack on a US base near Baghdad International Airport. The following month, James Mollen, an American special adviser to Iraq's Higher Education and Scientific Research Ministry, was shot to death near the capital's fortified Green Zone.

Also yesterday, the US military announced the deaths of four soldiers in two separate roadside bomb attacks in the city of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and the death of another soldier whose vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb 75 miles north of the capital

Also yesterday, British and Iraqi officials offered widely contrasting public accounts of the circumstances that led to clashes Monday between British soldiers and Iraqi police in Basra.

A British armored vehicle smashed into a police station in an attempt to force the release of two British personnel who had been detained.

Haider Ebadi, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, called the British actions ''very unfortunate" and said police had acted correctly in detaining the men, who were behaving ''very suspiciously." They were wearing civilian clothes and asking for information in the streets, he said.

''We hoped they would solve this problem with the central government," Ebadi said. ''But the British forces decided to act individually, and the military operation to release the detainees happened the way we saw it. This is wrong, and it is not a healthy way to deal with problems."

Throughout the day, Iraqi and other Arab television stations broadcast images of the two British men clad in dark pants and T-shirts, seated in front of a table bearing what appeared to be a large quantity of weapons and ammunition said to have been discovered in their possession. One man had scrapes and small cuts on his head and the side of his face.

Brigadier John Lorimer said in a written statement that under Iraqi law, the police were required to hand over the men to coalition forces, an outcome he said he and the British consul general had sought to negotiate. Lorimer said that the Iraqi interior minister had personally ordered the British personnel released, and that the order was ignored. Instead, he said, the two were handed over to a local Shi'ite Muslim militia.

''I became concerned about the safety of the soldiers after we received information that they had been handed over to militia elements," he said. ''As a result, I took the difficult decision to order entry to the Jamiat police station."

British troops set a cordon around the station and were attacked with ''fire bombs and rockets by a violent and determined crowd," Lorimer said. An armored vehicle plowed through one wall of a building, but the men were not found inside. They were later discovered in a house elsewhere in the city.

''It is of deep concern that British soldiers held by the police should end up being held by militia," Lorimer said. ''This is unacceptable, and I should stress that we won't hesitate to take action against those involved in planning and conducting attacks against coalition forces."

Police officials in Basra have said publicly that many of their officers' primary loyalty is to Shi'ite militias.

Elsewhere in Iraq yesterday, government officials said that residents of the northwestern city of Tal Afar who fled during a large offensive against insurgents by US and Iraqi forces this month had been invited to return to their homes and that about $50 million would soon be spent to help rebuild the city.

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