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Suicide car bomb kills 9 US soldiers

In Baghdad, US may drop plans for wall

BAGHDAD -- Nine US soldiers were killed and 20 wounded yesterday in a suicide car bombing against a patrol base northeast of the capital in Diyala Province, a volatile area that has been the site of fierce fighting, the military said.

The attack came on a day when insurgents struck across Iraq, carrying out seven other bombings that killed at least 48 people.

Of the 20 wounded in the attack on Task Force Lightning in Diyala, 15 soldiers were treated and returned to duty while five others were evacuated to a medical facility for further care, the military said. An Iraqi civilian was also wounded.

Identities were not released pending notification of relatives.

It was the second bold attack against a US base north of Baghdad in just over two months and was notable for its use of a suicide car bomber.

Militants have mostly used hit-and-run ambushes, roadside bombs or mortars on US troops and stayed away from direct assaults on fortified military compounds to avoid US firepower.

Also yesterday, US officials signaled that they might reconsider putting a 3-mile concrete barrier around a Sunni Arab neighborhood in Baghdad after Iraq's struggling prime minister came under pressure from Sunnis and ordered the project halted.

Plans for the separation barrier to protect the Azamiyah neighborhood were in doubt after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki criticized the idea of creating "gated communities" to separate Baghdad's sectarian neighborhoods.

Speaking during a tour of Sunni-led Arab countries, the Shi'ite Muslim prime minister said he did not want the 12-foot-high wall planned for Azamiyah to be seen as dividing the capital's sects.

Iraq's Sunni Arab minority dominated during Saddam Hussein's reign, and its members remain deeply distrustful of Shi'ite intentions and provide the backbone of the Iraqi insurgency.

Shi'ite militias, in turn, have been attacking Sunni neighborhoods in retaliation for insurgent attacks on their own communities.

Azamiyah's Sunni residents have been the target of frequent mortar attacks by Shi'ite militants, but hundreds of people in the district took to the streets to protest against the wall that they said would make their neighborhood "a big prison."

The new American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, defended the barrier plan yesterday, saying it was an effort to protect the Sunni community from surrounding Shi'ite areas, not to segregate it.

Holding his first news conference since taking his post, Crocker said security measures were implemented in coordination with the Iraqi government.

"Obviously, we will respect the wishes of the government and the prime minister," Crocker said, although he did not say construction would halt.

Maliki said he would not allow "a separation wall," but then he said that the subject would be discussed and that he would not rule out all barriers, such as barbed wire.

Iraq's chief military spokesman indicated that some type of barrier would go up, saying Maliki was responding to exaggerated reports about the wall.

"We will continue to construct the security barriers in the Azamiyah neighborhood. This is a technical issue," Brigadier General Qassim al-Moussawi said at a joint news conference with a US military spokesman, Rear Admiral Mark Fox.

"Setting up barriers is one thing and building barriers is another," he said. "These are moveable barriers that can be removed."

Moussawi noted that similar walls made of sections of concrete are in place elsewhere in Baghdad, including in other residential neighborhoods.

Maliki had assured Washington that he would not allow political considerations to influence tactical decisions, but his criticism of the wall followed a wave of outrage from Azamiyah's residents and Sunni leaders after the US military announced its plan last week.

In addition to the nine US deaths in Diyala, another US soldier was killed yesterday when a roadside bomb exploded in Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

A British soldier was shot to death while on patrol in the southern city of Basra, officials said.

The deadliest attack against nonmilitary targets occurred when a suicide car bomber struck near a restaurant outside Ramadi, killing at least 19 people and wounding 35.

The blast occurred about an hour after a similar attack targeting Iraqi police in the volatile city wounded seven people.

Other suicide car bombers killed 10 people each in the northern city of Mosul and the city of Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad, police said.

In central Baghdad, a bomber wearing an explosives belt blew himself up in an Iraqi restaurant less than 100 yards from the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing at least seven people and wounding 16, police said.

Bombs in two parked cars also exploded outside the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, killing two civilians.