Talabani extends hand to insurgents

2 more Americans, one British soldier killed
BAGHDAD (AP) — Insurgent attacks took their toll on coalition forces Sunday, with a roadside bomb killing a British trooper in southern Iraq and a US soldier slain by gunfire northwest of Baghdad. A US Marine also died of wounds, the US command said.

In Mosul, US troops sealed off the house where eight insurgents died Saturday, some by detonating a grenade to avoid capture. US officials issued no statement, but Iraqi authorities said top figures in Al Qaeda in Iraq were believed to have been in the house.

The US soldier killed near the capital was assigned to the Army’s Task Force Baghdad and was hit by small arms fire, the military said. The Marine, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, died of wounds suffered the day before in Karmah, a village outside Fallujah to the west of the capital.

Their deaths brought to at least 2,093 the number of US service members who have died since the war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

In the southern city of Basra, a roadside bomb killed a British soldier and wounded four others, the British ministry of defence said. The ministry said 98 British soldiers have died in the Iraq conflict.

The US military also said Sunday that 24 people — including one American Marine — were killed the day before in an ambush on a joint US-Iraqi patrol in Haditha, 220 kilometres northwest of Baghdad in the volatile Euphrates River valley. The dead included 15 civilians caught in the crossfire.

According to the US statement, the attack began Saturday with a roadside bomb detonating next to the Marine’s vehicle, followed by a heavy volley of fire from insurgents.

“Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another,” the statement said.

In Mosul, extraordinary security measures were under way Sunday around the house where the insurgents died, Iraqi officials said. American soldiers maintained control of the site a day after a fierce gunbattle which broke out when Iraqi police and US soldiers surrounded a house after reports that Al Qaeda in Iraq members were inside.

Three insurgents detonated explosives and killed themselves to avoid capture, Iraqi officials said. Eleven Americans were wounded.

Meanwhile, four Christian women were killed Sunday night when gunmen stormed their home in a Christian district of eastern Baghdad, police said. The gunmen stole valuables and the motive for the attack appeared to have been robbery, police added.

The latest deaths occurred at the end of a violent three-day period in which at least 140 Iraqi civilians died in a series of bombings and suicide attacks — most of them targeting Shiite Muslims.

They included 76 people who died Friday in near-simultaneous suicide bombings at two Shiite mosques in Khanaqin and 36 more killed the next day by a suicide car bomber who detonated his vehicle amid mourners at a Shiite funeral north of the capital.

In Washington, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on ABC’s “This Week” that commanders’ assessments will determine the pace of any military drawdown. About 160,000 US troops are in Iraq as the country approaches parliamentary elections December 15.

The Pentagon has said it plans to scale back troop strength to its preelection baseline of 138,000, depending on conditions. Rumsfeld said the US-led coalition continues to make progress in training Iraqi security forces, which he placed at 212,000.

Rumsfeld also said talk in the United States of a quick withdrawal from Iraq plays into the hands of the insurgents.

“The enemy hears a big debate in the United States, and they have to wonder maybe all we have to do is wait and we’ll win. We can’t win militarily. They know that. The battle is here in the United States,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” In Cairo, Egypt, Iraq’s president said Sunday he was ready for talks with anti-government opposition figures and members of Saddam Hussein’s outlawed Baath Party, and he called on the Sunni-led insurgency to lay down its arms and join the political process.

But President Jalal Talabani, attending an Arab League-sponsored reconciliation conference, insisted that the Iraqi government would not meet with Baath Party members who are currently participating in the Sunni-led insurgency and attacking Iraqi and US-led forces in the country.

“I am the president of Iraq and I am responsible for all Iraqis. If those who describe themselves as Iraqi resistance want to contact me, they are welcome,” Talabani told reporters. “I want to listen to all Iraqis. I am committed to listen to them, even those who are criminals and are on trial.” Talabani made clear in his remarks, however, that he would talk with insurgents and “criminals” only if they put down their weapons.

In Baghdad, hundreds of Sunnis demanded an end to the torture of detainees and called for the international community to pressure Iraqi and US authorities to ensure that such abuse does not occur.

Anger over detainee abuse has increased sharply since US troops found 173 detainees at an interior ministry prison in Baghdad’s Jadriyah neighbourhood. The detainees, mainly Sunnis, were found malnourished and some had torture marks on their bodies. Sunni Arabs dominate the insurgent ranks.

The 400 protesters carried posters of tortured detainees, disfigured dead bodies and US troops detaining Iraqis as they marched for a few hundred metres through western Baghdad.

Iraq’s Shiite-led government has promised an investigation and punishment for anyone guilty of torture. Attacks against Shiite civilians by Sunni religious extremists have occurred throughout the Iraq conflict but spiked since the detainees were found last weekend.

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