Fourteen marines were killed on Wednesday in one of the deadliest attacks on United States forces since the invasion of Iraq as an American freelance reporter was gunned down in the relatively calm south.
The marines, along with an interpreter, were killed when their armoured vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb during combat operations near Haditha, 260km north-west of Baghdad, the US military said.
One other marine was wounded.
The latest deaths bring the number of US military personnel killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion to 1 811, according to a tally by news agency AFP based on Pentagon figures.
Since Monday, 21 marines have been killed in western Iraq’s Al-Anbar province. Twenty of them died near Haditha, while one was killed near the town of Hit, 170km west of Baghdad.
Ansar al-Sunna, an extremist group linked with the al-Qaeda network, said in an internet statement that it killed eight US marines and captured a ninth in western Iraq.
Ansar al-Sunna said it killed some of the marines on Monday by ”slitting their throats”, while others were shot. The statement could not be verified.
It also said its fighters captured a ninth US marine ”who was wounded in an ambush … near Haditha”.
The group vowed to publish more details on the killings and pictures of the ”American prisoner” later.
Ansar al-Sunna has claimed a string of attacks in Iraq, including murders of foreign hostages and Iraqis accused of ”collaborating” with US-led forces.
Wednesday’s attack on marines is the second-deadliest carried out since the December 21 lunchtime blast at a US base in the northern town of Mosul.
The blast in the mess tent killed 22, including 18 Americans, 14 of them US soldiers and four civilians.
Meanwhile, US journalist Steven Vincent (50) was shot dead after being snatched on Tuesday evening from a street in central Basra.
Vincent, who had been in Basra for the past two months, was abducted along with his female Iraqi translator who was also shot twice but survived.
”There were four gunmen in a white pick-up truck and they kidnapped the two,” police Lieutenant Colonel Karim al-Zaidi said. ”Vincent was killed, while the girl is alive.”
Vincent, apparently the first US journalist to be kidnapped and killed, was wearing a black T-shirt that had a photograph of revered Shi’ite saint Hussein Ali and a symbolic necklace usually worn by Shi’ite Muslims, sources said.
Southern Iraq, where the British military is based, has remained relatively calm since the US-led war, largely avoiding the daily diet of deadly violence in many other parts of the country.
”Vincent’s body was recovered by local Basra authorities, and the US forces along with the British forces will determine who is responsible for the death,” US embassy acting spokesperson Peter J Mitchell said.
Another Western official said Vincent’s body had multiple gunshot wounds.
”We do not know the circumstances of his death, but we do not believe it was a drive-by shooting,” the official said.
Vincent wrote for the Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times and the conservative National Review magazine. He had also written a book on Iraq titled In the Red Zone.
US-based media rights group the Committee to Protect Journalists recently said that at least 23 journalists were killed in Iraq last year, 17 of them Iraqis.
In other attacks, four people were killed, including three police officers across Iraq, police said on Wednesday.
Two police officers were killed when their patrol was attacked by gunmen in the town of Baquba, 60km north-east of Baghdad.
Another police officer was shot dead by gunmen in Baghdad.
In a separate incident, one man was killed when a mortar round hit the centre of Baghdad near the city governor’s office on Wednesday, an AFP correspondent reported. Two other mortar rounds also hit Baghdad.
Work on new Constitution
Iraq’s panel drafting the new post-Saddam Hussein Constitution met again in Baghdad to discuss the finer details of the basic law.
The committee was to discuss fundamental rights, including the return of nationality to Jews, Muther Al-Fadhil, a Kurdish panelist said.
The draft proposes to bar Iraqi-born Jews living in exile from recovering their Iraqi nationality.
Most panellists had earlier agreed to restore nationality to those Jews who had lost it after 1963. The date is important as it coincides with the first coup that put the nationalist Ba’ath party in power, by which time there were few Jews remaining.
After Israel’s creation in 1948, hundreds of Jews migrated to Israel after charged with being agents of the new Jewish state.
Today only about two dozen Jews are still in Iraq.
Some thorny issues such as the role of Islam, whether Kurdish should be an official language alongside Arabic and how to bring federalism into Iraq are still unresolved and currently forwarded to some top Iraqi political leaders.
Iraqi parliamentarians have vowed that the draft will be ready by August 15, in time for a scheduled mid-October referendum. — Sapa-AFP