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At Least 17 Iraqis Die in Armed Assaults and Suicide Bombings

By Robert F. Worth

The New York Times -- BAGHDAD, Iraq

Insurgents carried out a string of armed assaults and suicide bombings in central Iraq on Monday, killing at least a dozen Iraqi army soldiers and police officers and five civilians, officials said.

The violence, coming after a weekend of relative calm, began in Baquba, 35 miles northeast of the capital, where three separate attacks on Iraqi army checkpoints and convoys left 12 officers dead and 24 people wounded, army officials said.

In Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber drove a pickup laden with explosives into the house of an army officer, the police said. The blast killed at least five civilians -- including two students outside a high school next door -- and wounded 24. In Baghdad, gunmen opened fire on two police patrols, killing one officer and wounding another, police officials said.

The Bulgarian defense minister, Nikolai Svinarov, said Monday that a Bulgarian soldier killed in southern Iraq on Friday appeared to have been struck by gunfire that had come from the direction of American troops in the area. He said he had written to American military authorities demanding an investigation. The commanding general of allied forces in the area has appointed a special commission to investigate the attack, U.S. military officials said.

The shooting of the Bulgarian took place on the same day that American soldiers at a security checkpoint in Baghdad fired on a car carrying the Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, wounding her and killing an Italian intelligence officer.

A senior Defense Department official in Washington said Monday that the American military checkpoint the Italians’ car was approaching consisted of two barriers across the road. The official could not say what the barriers were made of, how large they were or whether they were permanent or temporary. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there were two Army Humvees parked near the checkpoint, but apparently not in the road itself.

Another senior Pentagon official reiterated the military’s initial statement that the Italians’ car was traveling at high speed. Sgrena has said that her car was traveling slowly when she and her colleagues came under fire.

The Pentagon official did not offer new details on the incident, but suggested that the Italians’ car had not responded to soldiers’ hand signals, flashing lights and warning shots -- steps the official said soldiers would have taken to warn the car to stop. “There were any number of cars passing through that checkpoint that night,” said the defense official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “They fired on that car for a reason.”

The new insurgent attacks came a day after government officials announced that Iraq’s newly elected national assembly will meet for the first time on March 16, regardless of whether a new government has been formed by then.