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Mideast edition, Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility Tuesday for a double suicide truck bombing that killed nine U.S. paratroopers in the worst attack on American ground forces in Iraq in more than a year, saying it sent “two knights” for the attack, The Associated Press reported late Tuesday.

According AP, the Islamic State of Iraq — an umbrella group of Sunni militants that includes al-Qaida in Iraq — said it was behind Monday’s double attack on a U.S. patrol base in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad — an area that has seen violence spike since American troops surged into Baghdad to halt violence there.

The explosion took place Monday afternoon at a patrol base, one of several smaller outposts recently established according to the 2-month-old security strategy. With the much-examined crackdown in Baghdad sending displaced insurgents north to Diyala, elements of the “surge” have followed, officials have said.

According to the Los Angeles Times, U.S. forces recently have opened about seven smaller outposts in and around Baqouba, the provincial seat of Diyala. U.S. commanders have acknowledged that the smaller outposts present more dangers for U.S. troops, but say the benefits of being closer to the Iraqi population are more important.

“You have to position your soldiers forward,” Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, spokesman for Multi-National Division — North, which has responsibility for Baqouba, said Tuesday by phone.

Donnelly said the loss of the nine Task Force Lightning soldiers has been hard.

“We are going through a tough time,” he said. “Our deepest, heartfelt prayers are with the families and we offer our sincere condolences.”

Of the wounded, 15 soldiers returned to active duty, while the remaining five, along with an Iraqi interpreter, were evacuated for further medical treatment, according to military officials.

For the troops stationed in northern Iraq, Diyala long has been the sore spot of the region. While other parts of the operating area have, for the most part, been relatively peaceful compared to the rest of the country, Diyala, just north of Baghdad, has more in common with the violence found in the capital.

According to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, a statistical tally of the violence in Iraq, Diyala trails only Baghdad and Anbar province in the number of civilian deaths. And since the security push in Baghdad, attacks against U.S. troops in Diyala have increased.

Donnelly said that any increase in attacks in Diyala was related to the greater presence of troops among Iraqis.

“It’s a matter of physics, the more matter you put into a confined space, the more likely they are going to collide,” he said.

On Tuesday, an official with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., said the soldiers killed in the attack were all from that division. It is the worst single combat loss suffered by the 82nd Airborne since the war began, Maj. Tom Earnhardt told The Associated Press.

The attack on the U.S. outpost came on the same day a car bomb struck an Iraqi police checkpoint near the Diyala province council headquarters, killing seven police and wounding 13 others.

“The provincial council, who was meeting to discuss the 2007 provincial budget, continued their meeting despite the attack,” U.S. Army Col. David W. Sutherland, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division commander and senior U.S. Army officer in Diyala, was quoted as saying. “The council members refuse to be intimidated or swayed by this attack, realizing security and stability for the people is necessary.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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