Iraq bomb kills 9 US soldiers

The deaths raised to 85 the number of US service members who died have in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month for American troops since December, when 112 died.

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An Iraqi civilian also was wounded in Monday’s attack on Task Force Lightning soldiers in Diyala province, a volatile area that has been the site of fierce fighting involving US and Iraqi troops, Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite militias.

The attack came on a day in which at least 48 Iraqis also were killed in seven other bombings that have persisted despite a nearly 10-week-old US-Iraqi security crackdown aimed at pacifying Baghdad.

Of the 20 wounded in the attack on the patrol base, 15 soldiers were treated and returned to duty while five others and the Iraqi were evacuated to a medical facility for further care.

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

On February 19, insurgents struck a US combat post in Tarmiyah, about 50 kilometres north of Baghdad, killing two soldiers and wounding 17 in what the military called a "coordinated attack".

It began with a suicide car bombing, then gunfire on soldiers pinned down in a former Iraqi police station, where fuel storage tanks were set ablaze by the blast.

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.

The attacks reflect the increased dangers facing American troops as they step up their presence in the Baghdad area as part of the security operation to quell the violence in the capital.

Sunni militants are believed to have withdrawn to surrounding areas such as Diyala province where they have safe haven. The US command also sent an extra 700 soldiers to the area last month.

A US soldier also was killed on Monday in a roadside bombing in Muqdadiyah, about 90 kilometres north of Baghdad, the military said in an earlier statement. A British soldier was shot to death while on patrol in the southern city of Basra, officials said.

A suicide car bombing also struck a police station in the Diyala provincial capital of Baquba, killing 10 people and wounding 23, but the US military said that was a separate attack.

At least 3,332 members of the US military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

US officials, meanwhile, signalled they might reconsider putting a 5km concrete barrier around a Sunni Arab neighbourhood 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 neighbourhood were in doubt after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki criticised the idea of creating "gated communities" to separate Baghdad's sectarian neighbourhoods.

Speaking during a tour of Sunni-led Arab countries, the Shi'ite Muslim prime minister said he did not want the 3.6-metre 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 neighbourhoods 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 neighbourhood "a big prison".

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