- Iraq - suicide bombing - USA
AFP - Five US troops were killed on Friday in the deadliest attack on American forces in Iraq for more than a year when a suicide truck bomber struck a police compound in the northern city of Mosul.
Two Iraqi police and an Iraqi soldier also perished in the blast, according to an interior ministry official. The US military considers Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, to be the last urban bastion of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The attack comes amid a sudden upturn in bombings nationwide including a series of blasts in Baghdad that have dealt a blow to recent upbeat assessments by American commanders about Iraq's fragile security.
A US military spokesman said that five soldiers were killed and two others wounded in the attack, adding that the patrol seemed to have been in the area by chance and was not deliberately targetted.
"It appears to have been a target of opportunity as the ... convoy was passing the national police station, and not at the headquarters conducting training," spokesman Major Derrick Cheng told AFP.
An Iraqi policeman who asked not to be named described how the truck barrelled through a checkpoint before it exploded in the heart of the compound, leaving a huge crater and damaging surrounding buildings.
A Mosul police official said 70 people were wounded, including 43 members of the security forces and 27 civilians.
Civilians living near the compound were pelted with shrapnel, according to Muatasam al-Hayali, a doctor at Mosul's main hospital.
Amjad Akram, 42, said the explosion rocked his apartment. "Everything was broken in my home, my refrigerator, my TV, my furniture. The smoke was so thick we couldn't see each other," he said.
A woman who asked not to be named said she was at home with her husband and five children when the bomb went off.
"We felt a huge tremor and the electricity went out," she said. "My children couldn't breathe for an hour because of the smoke. We took my grandmother to the hospital because she was hit by shrapnel."
The US military said in a statement that American forces had detained two suspects in the bombing.
The latest deaths bring the total number of US casualties since the March 2003 invasion to topple Saddam Hussein to 4,271, according to an AFP count based on the independent website icasualties.org.
The US army spokesman confirmed that Friday's blast was the deadliest for American forces since March 10 last year, when a suicide bomber struck a foot patrol in Baghdad, killing five soldiers.
Despite repeated US and Iraqi operations in Mosul, the city is still gripped by a strong insurgency, in part due to an ethnic divide between Kurds and Sunni Arabs but also because of tribal rivalries.
The US military has in recent weeks played down talk of a rise in violence, as its soldiers prepare to withdraw from Iraqi cities and major towns by June 30 and from the entire country by the end of 2011.
Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the US army's second-highest ranking officer in Iraq, said in Baghdad on April 1 that recent "high-profile" attacks were not a signal that the security situation was worsening.
"We have driven down the level of attacks by violent extremists and terrorists," he told reporters. "In terms of the number of troops that I have had killed in action, I think the month of March was the lowest ever."
In other violence on Friday, three people were killed and seven wounded in two roadside bomb attacks, according to local security officials.
Security has improved dramatically since 2007 when Iraqi and US forces launched offensives against Al-Qaeda militants with the help of local US-financed and trained Sahwa "Awakening" militias.
But insurgents are still able to strike with deadly results. A total of 252 Iraqis were killed in violence in March, almost the same tally as the previous month but up from January, when 191 Iraqis died in unrest.
Attacks in Baghdad on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday killed at least 49 people and wounded 182.