3 U.S. troops dead in Iraq bridge strike | VailDaily.com

3 U.S. troops dead in Iraq bridge strike

Qassim Abdul-Zahra
Associated Press
Vail, CO Colorado
Petros Giannakouris/AP PhotoU.S. troops and private security guards, in black, work to remove concrete rubble from atop wounded soldiers, at a bridge destroyed by an apparent suicide vehicle bomber on Sunday.

BAGHDAD – The suicide explosion that destroyed a vital bridge outside the Iraqi capital killed three American soldiers guarding the span over a main highway, the U.S. military said Monday, as bulldozers worked to clear the shattered concrete.

An Iraqi interpreter also was wounded in the attack Sunday on the overpass on the Iraqi capital’s main north-south artery. As rescuers climbed over the debris, U.S. armored vehicles provided cover fire from their cannons after the bombing, which occurred in the area dubbed the “triangle of death” for its frequent Sunni insurgent attacks.

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, whose forces control the area of the bombing, spoke at length about U.S. efforts to draw Sunnis into the security forces.

“There are tribal sheiks out there who say ‘Hey, just allow me to be the local security force. I don’t care what you call me. … You can call me whatever you want. Just give me the right training and equipment and I’ll secure my area.’ And that’s the direction we’re moving out there,” the Third Infantry Division commander said Sunday in a meeting with reporters.

Lynch said contacts with the Sunnis, who make up the bulk of the insurgency, were a matter of pragmatism.

“What’s the long term effect of arming members of the Sunni population? … What I’ve seen over time is the Sunni population saying ‘enough, we’ve had enough of these attacks’ … As a result you see them wanting to arm themselves so they can protect the population mostly against al-Qaida,” he said. “So, we’ve got to reach out to them.”

The Iraqi Parliament voted Monday in a closed session to remove the speaker after a series of embarassing scandals involving the lawmaker, legislators said. Mahmoud al-Mashhadani will be replaced by another Sunni Arab, they said.

Many of the house’s 275 legislators viewed his behavior as unbecoming and, on occasion, erratic.

Last year, he barely survived a campaign by Shiite and Kurdish politicians to remove him after he said Iraqis who killed American troops should be celebrated as heroes. Last month, he slapped a fellow Sunni lawmaker in the face and called him “scum” at the end of a raucous session.

On Sunday, al-Mashhadani got into a shouting match with a fellow lawmaker, who complained about assaults and general heavy-handed behavior by al-Mashhadani’s guards.

The speaker, who did not attend Monday’s session, was told to immediately submit his resignation and his parliamentary bloc, the Sunni Arab Iraqi Accordance Front, to nominate a replacement within a week.

Al-Mashhadani has yet to publicly comment on his removal, but lawmakers said he had suggested to visitors that he did not plan to resist his ouster.

“He has abused his power and now paid the price,” said Shiite lawmaker Kareem al-Yaqoubi of the Fadhila Party. “The house’s decision is not political.”

In Sunday’s suicide strike on the bridge, it appeared that a northbound driver stopped and detonated his vehicle beside a support pillar, said Lt. Col. Garry Bush, an Army munitions officer who was in a U.S. civilian convoy that arrived two minutes after the blast. The convoy also carried an Associated Press reporter and photographer.

A U.S. Army checkpoint and a tent structure, apparently a rest area, fell into the rubble.

Security guards with private security firm Armor Group International, all ex-military, and others in a passing convoy rushed to the ruins. They found a scene of confusion and worked with a U.S. Army quick reaction force for some 45 minutes to retrieve trapped men, scrambling over the fallen concrete.

At one point, a Bradley armored vehicle with a tow chain pulled a slab off a pinned victim to free him.

Then a shout went up, “Morphine! Morphine!” and a black T-shirt-clad Briton administered painkiller to the freed man.

“Another poor fellow looked crushed beneath a concrete slab,” said Donald Campbell, a 40-year-old from Inverness, Scotland.

Iraqi police said the overpass was a vital link across the highway for villagers in the area because the other spans have been taken over by U.S. forces. A police officer in nearby Iskandariyah, speaking on condition of anonymity because of security concerns, said a curfew had been imposed on vehicles and pedestrians after the attack and earlier bombings of a mosque and a Sunni political party’s headquarters that caused some damage but no casualties.

Drivers coming from both directions were told to turn back while the U.S. forces worked on Monday, causing traffic jams for much of the morning until the word spread to avoid the route.

Manhal Adil, a 42-year-old driver of a minibus that taxis passengers between Baghdad and Samawah, a Euphrates River city about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad, said he had to take a dangerous detour.

“Now, we are forced to take the old road, which is dangerous and full of police checkpoints that consume our time,” he said.

At least 11 Iraqis were killed in attacks elsewhere on Monday, according to police officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.

Also Monday, Britain’s next prime minister met with Iraqi leaders in a surprise visit following promises to study his country’s participation in the conflict as it faces growing opposition at home. Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who is to succeed Tony Blair later this month, was on a one-day fact-finding mission, British officials said.

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