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Latest Attacks in Iraq Kill 4 Iraqis, 3 US Soldiers - 2003-12-24

Two attacks in northern Iraq have killed several Iraqi civilians and three U.S. soldiers. Reports from the Kurdish-controlled north say a suicide bomber killed two police guards and two civilians. The other attack was a roadside bomb that exploded as a U.S. military vehicle passed by.

The suicide bomber struck the ministry of the interior building in the northern city of Arbil Wednesday morning.

The U.S. military's deputy chief of operations, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, says three top local government officials in the building were not harmed but, in addition to the deaths outside the building, many civilians were injured because of the large number of students in the area at the time of the attack.

In a separate attack near the restive city of Samarra, north of Baghdad, three U.S. soldiers died after their convoy hit a roadside bomb. General Kimmitt says one vehicle and one person were seen leaving the area, and an intensive search is under way to find them.

General Kimmitt was particularly upset at having to send news of the deaths to the soldiers' families on Christmas Eve.

"Our hearts go out to the families who are going to be getting information that is absolutely unnecessary at this time of the year, or any time of year," he said. "And deepest regrets go out to those families. They will be in our thoughts, and they will be in our prayers, as well as Iraqi police service members that were shot and killed today as well. These are senseless, unnecessary deaths, and the sooner we can get these deaths down to zero, the better."

The general was referring to several Iraqi police officers who were killed Wednesday, and others who have been shot to death in the northern city of Mosul since Tuesday.

Coalition officials have consistently tried to emphasize that the insurgency is harming not just American troops, but is actually killing many more Iraqis, those who are working with the coalition and ordinary civilians.

The attacks come as coalition forces brace for an expected wave of terrorist strikes surrounding the Christmas holiday.

U.S. troops put on a massive display of firepower in southwestern Baghdad early Wednesday, in what is being called Operation Iron Grip. The coalition forces used artillery and helicopter gunships to attack positions they say have been repeatedly used to launch attacks in the past, including mortar strikes.

Residents of nearby neighborhoods say most of the targets appeared to be in uninhabited stretches of palm-tree forest. General Kimmitt says he does not believe U.S. troops took any hostile fire during the operation.

Although the general says the troops were attacking specific targets in the area, he also said at least part of the motivation behind the massive aerial assault was to deter future attacks.

"Last night was a clear demonstration that we have the capability to respond to any level of attack that we have in Baghdad or throughout the area of operations," said General Kimmitt. "And we continue to maintain that capability through the Christmas season. If the enemy makes a decision to begin what you suggest is a Christmas offensive, we are more than prepared and more than able to respond to any offensive on his part."

The general says troops arrested five people during Operation Iron Grip on suspicion of bomb-making. He says they also seized a large amount of bomb-making material.