4 U.S. soldiers, Iraqi interpreter killed

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb Thursday and at least two dozen Iraqis died in violence across the country, as politicians worked on a government they hope will restore security.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari held his last Cabinet meeting ahead of Saturday’s presentation to parliament of the new national unity government.

Prime Minister-designate Nouri al-Maliki was looking over final candidates for the defense and interior ministries, and had reportedly shortlisted a small group for both. Sunni Arabs want the Defense Ministry, which runs the army, while the Shiites want the Interior Ministry, which controls the police.

The failure to reach agreement on the two posts had delayed the formation of the Cabinet after elections Dec. 15. Without an eventual agreement, no resolution is possible of the conflict between Shiites and Sunnis.

It has been suggested that al-Maliki, a Shiite, might appoint himself to head the two ministries until all parties can agree. Saturday would be two days ahead of a 30-day deadline for al-Maliki to present a Cabinet.

and it was unlikely he would take the risk of presenting a deal parliament would reject.

Meanwhile, the kidnappers of a United Arab Emirates diplomat in Iraq demanded the closing of the country’s embassy in Baghdad in a videotape aired on Arab television. Al-Jazeera TV did not air audio with the video, which showed a man said to be the hostage, Naji Rashid al-Nuaimi, 28, who was abducted by gunmen Tuesday in Baghdad.

In violence around Iraq, clashes broke out in the Sunni Arab city of Ramadi – an insurgent stronghold and the capital of western Anbar province. Ramadi hospital reported at least one Iraqi was killed when his car was hit by a mortar.

Iraqi police said four officers were killed and three wounded in a mortar attack apparently targeting a U.S. base in nearby Fallujah.

Four U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter died when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb northwest of Baghdad, the U.S. command said. It had earlier said a U.S. sailor died Wednesday in Anbar province.

The five deaths raised to at least 2,455 the number of members of the U.S. military who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Gunmen stopped a minibus in southwestern Baghdad and killed all eight Iraqis on board – a group of car mechanics and the driver. And a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol in northern Baghdad’s Waziriya neighborhood, killing three police officers and five bystanders.

In Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, where most of Britain’s 8,000 soldiers are based, police chief Gen. Hassan Swadi narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when his convoy hit a roadside bomb, police spokesman Karim al-Zeidi said. Their were no casualties.

Britain’s new defense minister, Des Browne, visited troops in Basra Thursday and said the situation in the oil-rich region was under control.

Violence has been escalating in Basra between armed groups and some militias, and Iraqi government officials have expressed fears it could spiral out of control. Hundreds of people have staged demonstrations in recent days and Basra’s governor last week fired the provincial police chief amid charges he was doing little to control violence and crime.

President Jalal Talabani discussed Basra with his Shiite and Sunni vice presidents, Adil Abdul-Mahdi and Tariq al-Hashimi.

“We are following this issue closely, not because other parts of Iraq are violence-free, but because of the importance of the city with regard to the security of the south as a whole and the economy of Iraq,” Abdul-Mahdi said.

Elsewhere, 15 Iraqi taekwondo athletes were kidnapped in western Iraq while driving to a training camp in Jordan, and coalition forces killed three insurgents and wounded 10 in fighting in and around the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. command said.

Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and Olympic sport popular in many parts of the world.

AP-ES-05-18-06 1540EDT

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