Seven US marines have been killed in western Iraq, the US military said yesterday.
The soldiers were killed on Monday near Haditha, a town on the Euphrates river 200km (120 miles) northwest of Baghdad, US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Boylan said.
It was not immediately clear if they were killed in a single attack or if they died in separate clashes with fighters.
The deaths bring to just over 1,800 the number of US soldiers who have died since the start of the war in Iraq in March 2003.
In the past month, nearly 60 have died, including five who were killed in roadside bomb attacks in Baghdad at the weekend.
There have been frequent attacks in the area around Haditha in recent months.
US forces have launched at least two major offensives to try to quell uprising in the region, one of the most violent in the country.
Haditha is in the western al-Anbar province, which also includes the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, and has become the heartland of the insurgency in western Iraq.
At least 23 people were killed in ongoing violence across Iraq on Tuesday as members of the puppet ‘parliament’ discussed issues holding up the completion of the country’s new constitution before the August 15 deadline.
A powerful blast shook central Baghdad when a car bomber blew himself up close to a US military convoy. Four people were killed and 23 others were wounded, including four women, medics at Ibn al-Nafis hospital.
One US Humvee was set ablaze and 14 other vehicles were damaged by the blast, which occurred at around 1pm (0900 GMT). There were no immediate reports of US casualties.
In another incident, a civilian was killed and five wounded, four of them policemen, when a suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol in the centre of Baquba, 60km northeast of Baghdad, Iraqi police said.
Four puppet Iraqi soldiers were killed when a bomb hidden inside a dead dog hit an army patrol in the northeastern Balad town.
Five soldiers were also wounded.
In the north of the country, three people working at a US base in the town of Baiji were killed when the bus they were travelling in was attacked by armed attackers, while a construction worker was shot dead, also in Baiji.
An engineer was gunned down in the northern town of Dhuluiyah, while a man was killed in a Baghdad bookshop when a bomb reportedly hidden in a suitcase blew up, witnesses said.
The body of an Iraqi soldier was found in Samarra, while that of a policeman was found in Al-Dawr, 150km north of Baghdad.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted on unnecessary and overpriced equipment for Iraq’s new puppet army at a time when the US and its allies are struggling to get the force in shape to battle fighters, Iraqi officials say.
Iraqi authorities have opened inquiries into several cases of possible corruption at the Defence Ministry.
The ministry official believed to be behind most of the questionable deals, was removed from his job in June and banned from leaving the country.
‘Corruption is widespread at the ministry.
‘One of the cases alone is worth $226 million.
‘The investigation is still going on,’ said legislator Kamal al-Saaidi, a member of the independent Supreme Anti-corruption Commission.
Most of the alleged unnecessary purchases were made during the term of interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, who took office after the US-led occupation authorities turned over ‘sovereignty’ to their Iraqi puppets on 28 June 2004.
When new puppet Defence Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi took office in May, an investigation was opened into several alleged cases of corruption.
Former puppet national security adviser Qassim Dawoud refused to speak about corruption at the ministry, citing the ongoing investigation.
Iraqi investigators are probing several weapons and equipment deals engineered by the dismissed official, former procurement officer Ziad Cattan, and other defence officials.
One case involves Polish weapons maker Bumar, which signed a $236-million contract in December to equip the Iraqi army with helicopters, ambulances, pistols, machine guns and water storage tanks.
Added to other deals signed last year, Bumar’s contracts with the Iraqi army totalled nearly $300 million.
Iraqi officials said that when Iraqi experts travelled to Europe to check on the purchase of the transport helicopters, they discovered the aircraft, which cost tens of millions of dollars, were 28-years-old and outdated.
They refused to take them and returned home empty-handed.
In Warsaw, however, a spokeswoman for Bumar denied her company ever provided Iraq with poor-quality helicopters and said that although they were several years old and used, it was what the Iraqi Defence Ministry ordered.
Another case involving Cattan was a deal to purchase 7.62mm bullets, used in machine guns.
Iraqi officials said the bullets should have cost between 4 and 6 cents apiece but the ministry was eventually charged 16 cents per bullet.
Jawad al-Maliki, who heads the puppet parliament’s Security and Defence Committee, said that despite spending huge sums, ‘we did not see weapons on the ground’.
Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, the American commander in charge of training and equipping the Iraqi military, declined to comment on the corruption claims, saying it was a matter to be resolved by the Iraqi government.
A US military officer who used to work with the Iraqi Defence Ministry said equipment that could have been useful was not being purchased, such as new armoured vehicles or good ammunition.
He said there appeared to be little oversight and accountability in the procurement of equipment.
Repeated attempts by reporters to contact Cattan in recent weeks were unsuccessful. However, in a telephone interview in May, he spoke proudly of his efforts to procure equipment.
Cattan said that in only six months, he had signed contracts worth $600 million and that he headed military delegations to 15 countries including Russia, Poland and Germany.
He added that he signed contracts to ‘buy 500 Humvees, 600 armoured personnel carriers from Poland as well as transport planes from Russia and Poland’.
Earlier this year, another scandal broke when media reports revealed that Allawi’s defence minister, Hazem Shaalan, transferred $500 million to a bank account in Lebanon to buy weapons.
The current deputy prime minister, Ahmad Chalabi, himself wanted for corruption in Jordan, demanded an investigation into that case.
Shaalan left Iraq after a new government was formed and remains abroad.
Puppet Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari recently complained about administrative and financial corruption but also blamed president Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, nine soldiers and five civilians who were members of the Polish contingent in Iraq were charged with corruption during their mission there, military Iraqi police announced late on Tuesday.
They said in a statement that the 14, in charge of aid projects, had been charged with ‘making financial profits from an illegal activity carried out between April 2004 and January 2005’.
They were to be tried by a military court in Warsaw
During an inquiry carried out in Poland and Iraq, $232,000 had been recuperated, said the statement carried by Poland’s PAP news agency.