BAGHDAD — Five U.S. soldiers who were killed in Iraq Friday in the single deadliest assault on American troops in more than a year were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, a U.S. military spokesman said.
"The U.S. convoy . . . appeared to be a target of opportunity," said Maj. Derrick Cheng.
The five were killed when a suicide attacker detonated a truck packed with explosives near a national police station in a residential neighborhood in the northern city of Mosul as an American convoy was passing. Two Iraqi national police officers also died, and two U.S. soldiers were injured in the attack, the military said. Local police reported three officers killed and scores more hurt, as well as Iraqi soldiers and civilians.
"I heard a huge bang and then saw smoke coming up," said Khalid al Liheibi, who lives in the area.
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The military declined to release the dead and wounded soldiers' names because their families have yet to be informed.
Police said the bomber's truck was carrying at least 200 pounds of explosives when it slammed into a barrier meant to protect Iraq's national police headquarters in the Mansour area of southwestern Mosul.
Two people suspected of involvement in the assault have been arrested, U.S. military officials said, but they declined to provide further details, including the suspects' nationalities.
Friday's bombing was the deadliest attack on Americans since March 2008, when five U.S. soldiers patrolling on foot died in a suicide attack in Baghdad.
Nine Americans died in Iraq last month, and U.S. troop deaths have declined dramatically across Iraq in the past year or so. Iraqi death tolls have been creeping up again in recent weeks, however.
Nineveh province, where Mosul is located, has been particularly tense as Kurds and Arabs vie for control, and American officials worry that the disagreements could explode into large-scale violence.
President Barack Obama, who this week made his first visit to Iraq since taking office, has pledged to withdraw most American troops from the country by the end of next summer. Visiting Baghdad Tuesday, he said the recent surge in violence hasn't changed those plans.
Munther al Jabouri, a man crying outside a hospital, said his son was badly wounded in the latest attack, and that no one knew if he'd survive.
"The security officials in our city are not protecting us, only themselves," his wife screamed. "They don't live here. All of their families live outside this area."
Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, remains one of the deadliest for U.S. troops. Four soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter died there in February in a suicide bombing at a checkpoint. Violence has remained higher in Mosul than in most other Iraqi cities.
On Monday, a series of seven explosions killed dozens in Baghdad. Back-to-back bombings Tuesday and Wednesday in the capital's Kadhemiyah district killed at least 15.
Residents said that relations between the neighborhood's mostly Sunni Muslim residents and the mostly Shiite security forces have been strained recently, and some accused police of making unwarranted arrests.
(Reilly reports for the Merced Sun-Star. Abbas is a McClatchy special correspondent. Leila Fadel contributed to this article.)
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