Veiled suicide bomber kills 14

The woman donned a black abaya and walked into a crowd of about 200 police recruits at the main gate of the Muqdadiyah police station, said a police officer on the scene.

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At least 14 people, plus the bomber, were killed and 20 injured, said an official at Muqdadiyah General Hospital.

The death toll was expected to rise.

The police recruits had gathered at the station to await word about whether they were accepted into the police force there, the officer said.

Muqdadiyah, a mostly Sunni Muslim city, lies about 90 kilometres northeast of Baghdad.

The US military announced the deaths of four US soldiers – three killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad and another killed in combat in western Anbar province.

The three were killed yesterday by a roadside bomb and a secondary explosion, while on patrol in a south-eastern section of the Iraqi capital, the US military said in a statement.

Another US soldier was killed the same day while conducting combat operations in Iraq's western Anbar province.

At least 3,285 members of the US military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

The figure includes seven military civilians.

US forces were engaged in fierce fighting with gunmen in two Sunni-dominated neighbourhoods of the capital, Fadhil and Sheik Omar, according to police and witnesses.

An American helicopter involved in the battle came under ground fire but was not shot down, a senior US military official said.

Four civilians were injured in the clashes.

Timetable unnecessary: Iraqi PM

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, on a four-day trip to Japan, said today there was no need to set a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from his country.

"We see no need for a withdrawal timetable.

"To demand the departure of the troops is a democratic right and a right we respect.

His comments came a day after tens of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets of two Shi'ite holy cities, demanding that US forces leave their country.

While he was in Japan, Mr Maliki's office issued a statement today saying the prime minister would travel to Egypt later this month for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.

Mr Maliki is scheduled to arrive in Egypt on April 20, his office said.

It would be Maliki's first visit to Egypt – the Arab world's most populous nation.

Also today, the US military said it captured more than 150 suspected insurgents in a nearly two-week operation north of Baghdad.

Rocket-propelled grenades and launchers, automatic machine guns, sniper rifles and anti-tank mines were also seized, it said.

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