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At least nine American troops have been killed since the launch of a wide-ranging operation aimed at pursuing al-Qaida in Iraq fighters north and south of the capital.

Six soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed Wednesday when a booby-trapped house exploded in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. Four other soldiers were wounded in the incident, military officials said.

In a Tuesday attack, three other troops were killed and two wounded by gunfire in Salahuddin province, also north of Baghdad.

The military had announced the launch of Operation Phantom Phoenix on Tuesday, saying it was aimed at pursuing Sunni militants in pockets where they had fled to after the “surge” began last year.

Military officials, in interviews with Stars and Stripes, had warned of the danger posed in particular by booby-trapped buildings. They said that, as militants fled positions, they were likely to leave behind explosives-rigged buildings and vehicles.

Col. Terry Ferrell, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, said in a Wednesday interview that Air Force and Army aviation assets were “shaping the battlefield” and trying to find and destroy as many improvised bombs as possible.

According to The Washington Post, the bomb incident took place near a town called Himbuz.

“According to initial reports received by commanders on the ground, the house had been searched by U.S. forces about 10 days ago and cleared of weapons,” the Post reported. “Before the recent offensive, insurgents were seen returning to the house at night and doing construction work.”

By the time U.S. troops reached the town on Wednesday, officials said, most of the insurgents had fled.

The house was “ringed with explosives,” some of them in drums, and had a “for sale” sign on it, the Post reported.

At a Baghdad news conference, Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, said troops had not encountered “the major defense that we initially thought.”


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