BAGHDAD - Bombings killed seven U.S. soldiers in Baghdad and a southern city, the U.S. military said yesterday, and Iraq's Sunni vice president spoke out against a proposed oil law, clouding the future of a key benchmark for assuring continued U.S. support for the government.
Six of the soldiers were killed Saturday in a bombing in western Baghdad, the military said in a statement. Their interpreter was also killed.
The other soldier died in a blast Saturday in Diwaniyah, a mostly Shiite city 80 miles south of the capital where radical Shiite militias operate. Two soldiers were wounded in that attack, the military said.
Those deaths brought the number of American troops killed in Iraq since Friday to at least 15 - eight of them in Baghdad. At least 71 members of U.S. forces have died in Iraq this month, most of them from bombs.
In recent months, U.S. officials have been stepping up pressure on Iraq's religiously and ethnically based parties to reach agreements on a range of political and economic initiatives to encourage national reconciliation and bring an end to the fighting.
Progress in meeting those benchmarks is considered crucial to continued U.S. support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government at a time when Democrats in Congress are pressing for an end to the war. Those benchmarks include a new law to manage the country's vast oil wealth and distribute revenue among the various groups.
But prospects for quick approval received a setback yesterday when the country's Sunni vice president told reporters in Jordan that the proposed legislation would give too many concessions to foreign oil companies.
"We disagree with the production-sharing agreement," Tariq al-Hashemi told reporters on the sidelines of an international conference hosted by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum. "We want foreign oil companies, and we have to lure them into Iraq to learn from their expertise and acquire their technology, but we shouldn't give them big privileges."
The bill also faces opposition from Kurds, who have demanded greater control of oil fields in Kurdish areas. Kurdish parties control 58 of the 275 National Assembly seats.
Iraq's cabinet signed off on the oil bill in February and sent it to the assembly, a move that the Bush administration hailed as a major sign of political progress in Iraq. But the assembly has yet to consider the legislation.
Hashemi is among three leaders of a Sunni bloc that controls 44 seats. Together, the Kurds and the Sunnis have enough legislative muscle to delay passage of the measure, which also is likely to draw opposition from some Shiite lawmakers.
In the latest violence, at least 55 people were killed or found dead yesterday, including 24 found slain execution-style in Baghdad. Nineteen of the bodies were recovered in western areas of Baghdad, where the U.S.-led security crackdown has failed so far to halt sectarian death squads.
A suicide bomber exploded a tanker truck near an Iraqi police checkpoint outside a market west of Baghdad, killing at least two officers and injuring nine people, police said. Police said they suspected chlorine gas was used in the attack in a town just outside the turbulent city of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad. But the U.S. military said it had no reports chlorine was used.
A bomb planted under a parked car exploded near a Shiite mosque in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Bab al-Sharji, police said. The blast killed two civilians, wounded 10, and damaged nearby houses and the mosque, police said.
Several hours later, a mortar shell landed in a commercial area in central Baghdad, killing one person and wounding three, police said.
Also yesterday, a U.S. spokesman said troops killed a Shiite extremist believed to have masterminded a brazen January attack in Karbala in which four U.S. soldiers were killed.
Azhar al-Duleimi was killed Friday in a raid in northern Baghdad, Maj. Gen., William Caldwell told CNN. Caldwell said U.S. troops had been pursuing Duleimi "relentlessly" since the Jan. 20 attack, in which English-speaking gunmen wearing U.S. military uniforms and carrying American weapons attacked a joint military command headquarters in Karbala.
The attackers killed one soldier and abducted four, later shooting all to death.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of Iraq's largest Shiite party and a key figure in the country's political reform process, was diagnosed with lung cancer and traveled immediately to Iran for medical treatment, officials said yesterday.
The development was expected to create disarray in the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq, the powerful political organization the U.S. has counted on to help push through such reforms as a revenue-sharing oil law, constitutional amendments, and expanded political opportunities for Sunnis.
Hours earlier, President Jalal Talabani flew to the United States for a medical checkup and a three-week-long vacation, sidelining another key Iraqi politician at a critical time.
Talabani, a Kurd and a close ally of Hakim, was hospitalized briefly in Jordan in February after collapsing because of exhaustion and dehydration caused by lung and sinus infections.
Hakim flew to the United States on Wednesday for tests after doctors at a hospital in Baghdad detected signs of cancer in one of his lungs. The diagnosis was confirmed at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Iraqi officials said.
Hakim left the United States early yesterday for Iran, where he will undergo chemotherapy. He chose treatment in Iran because he wanted to be close to his family and proper treatment was not available in Iraq, officials said. Hakim's choice of Iran also reflected his close links to the Shiite government there.