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Insurgents attack US outpost in Iraq

Coordinated assault kills 2 US soldiers

Iraqis gathered yesterday at the scene of Sunday's twin car bomb attack in Baghdad. More than 60 people were killed. (Khalid Mohammed/associated press)

BAGHDAD -- Insurgents launched a fiery raid on a recently opened US outpost north of the capital yesterday morning, killing two US soldiers and injuring 17 troops in a possible foreshadowing of attacks to come as a neighborhood-based Baghdad security plan takes shape.

Police and witnesses said suspected Sunni Arab insurgents used at least one suicide car bomb, mortars, rockets, and small-arms fire to stage the daring attack in the agricultural town of Tarmiya. Fighting sparked by the rare frontal assault on a US base lasted hours and ended only after US fighter jets and ground reinforcements arrived.

Other attacks around the capital and western Iraq killed dozens of Iraqis, most of them Shi'ite Muslims. The US military also reported the deaths of four more troops since Saturday.

The latest violence coincided with Operation Enforcing the Law, a joint US-Iraqi effort to bring order to the Baghdad area, in part by establishing small neighborhood bases like the one attacked yesterday .

The raid, as well as continued attacks on Shi'ite Muslim civilians, suggest insurgents may be attempting to undermine the security plan by striking far-flung and lightly fortified outposts. At the same time, attacking Shi'ites in marketplaces and in law enforcement is seen as an attempt to goad Shi'ite militias back into the fight.

A group called the Iraqi Islamic State, which has declared a Sunni government in several western and central provinces, claimed responsibility for the attack.

"A brave knight from the Martyrs Regiment and a member of the Iraqi Islamic State set off this morning to infiltrate his booby-trapped car inside Tarmiya police station, which was made into military position by the crusaders," said an internet posting.

The Tarmiya station was not part of the Baghdad security plan. But such bases are part of the new strategy devised by General David Petraeus, which calls for troops to move back into smaller communities to reconnect with Iraqi residents and keep an eye on Iraqi security forces, which are largely mistrusted as instruments of the country's sectarian civil war.

The tactic effectively reverses the trend since 2004, when US forces began redeploying into impenetrable bases on the outskirts of Iraq's cities, lowering the American profile on Baghdad's streets, with the aim of putting Iraqi security forces in charge of the country.

Since that shift, Sunni insurgents became more effective, able to conduct sophisticated and well-armed attacks .

Insurgents also entrenched themselves in cities and towns infrequently visited by US forces. Such was the case for Tarmiya, a small Sunni Arab agricultural town of 40,000 inhabitants along the west bank of the Tigris River about 25 miles north of the capital that has long been an insurgent stronghold. Americans have used a former Iraqi police station at the town center as a US base since the police at the station were threatened, kidnapped and killed about two months ago, police said.

Officials said at least one suicide car bomber either rammed into or drove up beside two trucks carrying fuel into the base at around 7:30 a.m., igniting an explosion that sent flames dozens of feet into the air.

Insurgents in other vehicles then opened fire on the base with rockets mounted on a pickup truck, and from a nearby building, Iraqi police said. Insurgent mortars and small-arms fire added to the confusion as US fighter jets, helicopters, and ground forces responded, said a police official and witnesses. US medical helicopters landed at least five times to evacuate casualties, police and witnesses said.

US officials also reported four additional combat deaths. A Marine was killed Saturday, a soldier and a Marine slain Sunday, and a third Marine was killed yesterday , news releases said. All four deaths took place in Anbar province, the western-Iraq stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency.

A day after car bombs killed at least 56 civilians in a Shi'ite-dominated east Baghdad neighborhood, Sunni insurgents continued attacks yesterday on Shi'ite civilians and Iraqi security forces.

Explosions thudded across the capital throughout the day. US fighter jets scoured the skies as ground forces continued aggressive raids and patrols that have tripped up organized Shi'ite militias and reduced the number of sectarian death-squad executions.

Still, at least 20 bodies of young and middle-aged Iraqi men were found yesterday in west Baghdad, police said.

A bomb struck a crowded outdoor produce market in a poor, mostly Shi'ite district on the city's southeastern fringe, killing five Iraqis and injuring 28 shoppers. Another nearby roadside bomb blast killed three police officers and injured two others on patrol in the Zafaraniya district.

A suicide bomber wearing an explosives-packed belt killed five and injured 11 aboard a packed minibus in the mostly Shi'ite Karada district of the capital. Two other roadside bombs that exploded near a downtown marketplace killed two people and injured 40.