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Suicide Bomb Kills 4 Soldiers In Deadliest Attack in Months

By Sabrina Tavernise 
and Kirk Semple


A suicide bomber plowed a car loaded with explosives into an American checkpoint here on Monday evening, killing four American soldiers in the single deadliest suicide bombing against an American target in more than four months.

The bomber struck the checkpoint around 5 p.m. on Monday on a road in southern Baghdad, said Spc. Ricardo Branch of the 3d Infantry Division, the Army unit that patrols the capital. The military declined to say precisely where the attack took place, or how the bomber managed to penetrate the security barriers that often shield such locations.

Elsewhere, the military released a statement on Monday saying it had disciplined five soldiers from the 75th Ranger Regiment, an elite Army unit, and had charged them with violations related to abusing detainees. The soldiers were charged with kicking and punching three detainees as they were waiting to be moved to a detention facility on Sept. 7.

And in Washington, the Pentagon announced planned troop rotations that would leave a force of at least 92,000 in Iraq through 2008, though officials emphasized that the numbers could change.

The suicide attack was the largest against U.S. troops since June, when a suicide car bomber drove into an American convoy in Fallujah, a rebellious city west of Baghdad, killing at least six people. Before that, the most lethal attack came in the spring of 2004, when a car bomber killed eight soldiers, also in southern Baghdad.

Suicide car bombings against American soldiers are rare, and the attack underscored the increasing skills of insurgents here. Military commanders acknowledge that insurgents are now staging more sophisticated attacks, but say troops have responded to the changes.

Of the more than 2,000 American deaths in Iraq to date, most have been caused by soldiers’ vehicles hitting remotely detonated roadside bombs. Suicide bombers have tended to strike so-called soft targets, like mosques and markets, where security is virtually nonexistent.

The attack came as U.S. Marines, assisted by Iraqi troops, fought insurgents for a third day in a major sweep in the town of Husaybah, an insurgent gateway into Iraq on the Syrian border. Thousands of troops scoured about 350 city blocks, killing numerous insurgents and punching nearly to the eastern edge of town.

Since May, the American command has conducted at least 10 sweeps of towns along the Euphrates River in Anbar Province, a heavily Sunni Arab area that has been an entry point for foreign militants in Iraq. This summer, the military began setting up a permanent presence in some of the towns, and spokesmen have said they will do the same in Husaybah.

Several Marines were wounded in fighting on Monday — officials did not release the exact number — but none were killed. Only one Marine has been killed in the operation, officials said. Ground resistance was light, with the Marines coming under only sporadic fire from AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and at least one hand grenade.