Three of the Americans were killed Friday when a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the military said. Two others were killed and nine U.S. soldiers were wounded during separate attacks Thursday in southern Baghdad.
Their deaths raised to at least 3,408 the number of U.S. military members who have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press tally. At least 58 U.S. troops have been killed this month. In Baqouba, capital of Diyala, police and witnesses said fighting erupted about 7 a.m. when insurgents attacked U.S. and Iraqi military positions in the city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. The spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Minister, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said Iraqi units "backed by multinational forces and U.S. helicopters stormed the terrorist dens" in Baqouba, where fighting has escalated in recent weeks. "These operations will be continued in Baqouba as part of our operations to cleanse the city," Khalaf said. An Iraqi army major said at least six insurgents were killed and both U.S. and Iraqi for forces were involved in the fighting. He spoke on condition of anonymity for his personal security. However, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the U.S. command in Baqouba had investigated the report and "we have no indication that anything like that happened" in the city. The AP asked for U.S. military comment on the fighting, and the spokesman responded about 12 hours later. Many parts of Baqouba, a major agricultural and commercial center, have been under the influence of al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgent groups for months, and conflicting accounts of violence in the area often circulate. Travel to the area is dangerous, and independent investigations are impossible. In New York, ABC News announced that two of its Iraqi staffers were slain late Thursday in Baghdad while driving home from work. Cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz, 33, and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf, 26, were stopped by two cars full of gunmen and forced to get out of their vehicle, ABC said. The two staffers were unaccounted for overnight, and their deaths were confirmed in the morning. "They are really our eyes and ears in Iraq," ABC Baghdad correspondent Terry McCarthy said on "Good Morning America." "Many places in Baghdad are just too dangerous for foreigners to go now, so we have Iraqi camera crews who very bravely go out. ... Without them, we are blind, we cannot see what's going on." Journalists have been frequently targeted by violence in Iraq. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said 104 journalists and 39 media support workers have been killed and 48 journalists have been abducted since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, making it the deadliest conflict for the media in CPJ's 25-year history. The numbers include those killed in the latest attack. Of the 104 journalists killed, 82 were Iraqi, as were 38 of the 39 media support staff killed, according to CPJ. At least 45 Iraqis were killed or found dead Friday. They included bullet-riddled bodies of 25 people believed the victims of sectarian death squads, police said. All but one was found in west Baghdad, where most of the Sunni population lives. That suggests that Shiite death squads are active again despite the U.S.-led security crackdown which began Feb. 14. The U.S. military also announced it arrested six suspected insurgents Friday in northeast Iraq for membership in a cell that imports weapons from neighboring Iran and sends Iraqis to Iran for training. U.S. and Iranian officials are to hold talks here May 28 to discuss the security situation in Iraq. The U.S. is expected to press Iran to stop arming Iraqi extremists. Elsewhere, officials announced they were lifting a round-the-clock curfew imposed on the northern city of Mosul after a massive insurgent attack Wednesday. The militants used five suicide vehicle bombs, mortars and small arms fire to destroy two bridges and attack a police station. A total of 27 Iraqis were killed, the U.S. said. (AP) An AP employee in Baqouba contributed to this report. AP-CS-05-18-07 1800EDT