Eleven US soldiers die as revolt spreads to Syrian border

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The Independent Online

Five US Marines were killed and nine wounded in Iraq when hundreds of guerrillas attacked American forces near the Syrian border, a sign that the rebellion is spreading to regions which have hitherto been peaceful.

Five US Marines were killed and nine wounded in Iraq when hundreds of guerrillas attacked American forces near the Syrian border, a sign that the rebellion is spreading to regions which have hitherto been peaceful.

The pitched battle on Saturday started when the marines were ambushed in Husaybah, 240 miles west of Baghdad, according to a reporter from the St Louis Post-Dispatch, who was with the Marines. A doctor at the nearby city of al-Qaim said 10 Iraqis were killed and another 30 wounded, including guerrillas and civilian bystanders. The Husaybah police chief, Imad al-Mahlawi, was reportedly killed by a Marine sniper.

In total, 11 US soldiers were killed over the weekend. Three members of the US Army's 1st Armored Division died when their convoy came under fire near the southern Iraqi city of Diwaniyah on Saturday. A marine was killed in action in western Iraq, although the US military gave no details, and a soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad. Another solder was killed when his Abrams tank overturned in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to end guerrilla attacks on its supply lines, the US has banned civilian traffic on some of Iraq's most-used highways and declared them free-fire zones: all vehicles not belonging to the US military will be fired upon, according to American military command.

The decision over the weekend is likely to cause massive dislocation by preventing Iraqis from using the highways north and south of Baghdad ­ the main economic lifelines of the country ­ where insurgents have launched frequent attacks. The main roads to Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait will be cut.

Saturday's attack is important because it shows insurgents operating in larger numbers than before and seeking to relieve the pressure on Fallujah, where a shaky truce continues. Marine intelligence said 300 Iraqi mujahedin from Fallujah and Ramadi had first attacked an outpost by setting off a roadside bomb, then fired mortar rounds at the marines when they left their base.

Two British soldiers were injured when their convoy was ambushed in south-east Iraq, the Defence Ministry said yesterday. They were shot during an attack on a joint British Army and Iraqi Civil Defence Corps convoy near the town of Amara.

The US military command in Baghdad was shocked during the past two weeks to find that its truck convoys were coming under repeated attacks which have led to a shortage of supplies. It has admitted that this is one of the reasons that it needs an extra 20,000 soldiers.

Civilians working for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad's heavily fortified "Green Zone" have been told that they may have to go on army rations due to lack of food.

Announcing the road closures yesterday, the US military said: "Civilians that attempt to drive on these roads may be considered anti-coalition forces and risk being subject to attack. If civilians drive on the closed sections of the highways they may be engaged with deadly force."

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