BAGHDAD - The U.S. command announced Thursday the deaths of 14 more American troops, most killed by powerful roadside bombs in Baghdad. Thick, black smoke rose from the heavily fortified Green Zone after a mortar barrage as militants struck back despite a massive military offensive.
A suicide truck bombing outside the Sulaiman Bek city hall in a predominantly Sunni area of northern Iraq killed at least 17 people, including the mayor, and wounded 66, officials said. Blame fell on al-Qaida, which has targeted government officials it accuses of collaborating with U.S. forces and the Iraqi governments.
The blast collapsed the ceiling in a small store near the municipal building. Owner Saleh Mohammed, 58, who was wounded, said the explosion could prove a turning point in the relatively peaceful area.
"We do not work with the government or with al-Qaida," Mohammed said from his hospital bed. "But this explosion will force us to take sides, either with the government or with al-Qaida, because there is no point in being killed while we are doing nothing. The innocent people are targeted like this because they are doing nothing."
In the southern Shiite holy city of Najaf, thousands of protesters waved Iraqi flags and black-and-green Shiite banners with slogans such as "Death to al-Qaida."
They were showing unity after a bombing last week that brought down the twin minarets of the revered Askariya mosque in Samarra. A February 2006 bombing destroyed the mosque's golden dome and set in motion an unrelenting cycle of retaliatory sectarian bloodletting.
At least 15 servicemen have been killed since Tuesday, including 12 in a series of attacks beginning Wednesday.
The military had previously announced one of the deaths.
The U.S. military has sought to seize the momentum against al-Qaida and other militants with the arrival in Iraq of 30,000 additional troops. It has launched several large-scale operations.
But the military has also faced a series of recent attacks on U.S. troops, who are more vulnerable as they increasingly take to the streets and remote outposts.
The bombs appear to be growing more powerful. Some U.S. soldiers have reported an increase in the use of rocket-propelled grenades.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said the latest offensives aim to deprive militants of the havens where they have been able to assemble huge quantities of explosives.
North of the capital in Diyala province, thousands of U.S. troops have been engaged in an offensive against al-Qaida in Iraq that began Monday.
An American airstrike aimed at a booby-trapped house in Baqouba missed its target and "accidentally hit" another structure, wounding 11 civilians Wednesday, the U.S. military said, adding that it was investigating the incident.
The latest U.S. deaths raised to at least 3,545 the number of American troops who have died since the war began in 2003, according to an Associated Press count.