eight us marines among 24 killed in iraq

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    BAGHDAD: At least 24 people, including eight US Marines, were killed in Iraq suicide bombing and fighting. A suicide bomber blew up his vehicle on Monday near cars waiting to enter the Green Zone, killing 13 iraqies and injuring 15 others on the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein's capture.

    As insurgents ramped up attacks against US and Iraqi forces ahead of next month's elections, Saddam's successor said Washington was wrong for dismantling Iraq's security forces, including its 350,000-strong army, following last year's invasion.

    "Definitely dissolving the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior was a big mistake," Iraq's interim President Ghazi al-Yawer told BBC radio, saying that it would have been more effective to screen out former regime loyalists than to rebuild from scratch.

    Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing. "On this blessed day a lion from the group's Martyrs' Brigade has gone out to strike at a gathering of apostates and Americans in the Green Zone," the group said in a statement posted on a website.

    Shortly afterward, three explosions were heard in central Baghdad, but it was unclear whether any damages or casualties were caused. US forces were investigating. A US soldier was killed and another wounded on Monday in a vehicle accident near a military base in Balad, 80 kms north of Baghdad. It was unclear what caused the accident.

    Seven Marines died in action on Sunday in al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad, the deadliest day for the Marines since eight of their service members were killed by a car bomb October 30 outside Fallujah. It was unclear where in al-Anbar the Marines were killed, but the province includes the turbulent cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.

    US forces launched air strikes on Fallujah on Monday after the death of seven Marines. The warplanes pounded eastern suburbs of Fallujah sending columns of black smoke into the sky, said an AFP correspondent embedded with the Marines. Further west in Ramadi, 10 explosions were heard on early Monday. No details were immediately available on what caused them nor if there were casualties.

    In the town of Mishahda, gunmen attacked an Iraqi National Guard patrol killing three soldiers and wounding thee others. In Tikrit, a bomb placed under the car of an Iraqi National Guard officer exploded prematurely, injuring the officer's mother. In nearby Samarra, clashes erupted in the Dhubat area of city, killing a 9-year-old boy, according to Dr Falah Hassan from Samarra General Hospital.

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