Four more Americans die as Iraq bloodfest continues

Four American soldiers died Sunday in suicide bomber explosions that also killed more than a dozen Iraqi police officers.

In addition to the 2,969 Americans that have died, more than 12,000 Iraqi police officers have been killed as the death toll continues at a bloody and unrelenting pace.

Reports The Associated Press:

At a news conference in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani said despite the thousands of police deaths "when we call for new recruits, they come by the hundreds and by the thousands."

Among the deaths Sunday were seven police officers killed when a suicide bomber hit a police station in Muqdadiyah, northeast of the capital. The bombing was followed by six mortar rounds. In Mosul, a drive-by shooting killed two policemen.

Though police have been targeted by insurgent attacks, they have also been blamed for violence. Gunmen in Iraqi army and police uniforms have been responsible for recent bank robberies in Baghdad and the kidnapping of more than 40 workers and volunteers at the Iraqi Red Crescent.

Al-Bolani vowed to rid his ministry of rogue officers.

"We formed committees to clean and purge … to dismiss the bad elements from the ministry and build our institutions," al-Bolani said.

Five Iraqi officers died battling Shiite militiamen in a provincial capital in southern Iraq just months after British troops ceded control of the province to Iraqi security forces. Three days of fighting in Samawah, capital of the Muthana province, posed a challenge for Iraqi forces whose responsibilities are increasing as part of a U.S. plan to put more Iraqi provinces under local control.

Fighters linked to the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr fired rocket-propelled grenades at police headquarters and state buildings in Samawah, before government reinforcements arrived and a curfew fell on the city, police said. Masked gunmen lined rooftops.

Al-Bolani sought to downplay three days of clashes in Samawah, which lies on the Euphrates River about 230 miles southeast of Baghdad

"We know the (Iraqi) forces there can face these outlaw groups, but we want to tell the people that the government is present everywhere," al-Bolani said.

He refused to identify the groups, but police said they were members of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

The anti-American cleric has lost control of some elements of his militia, and it was unclear whether the gunmen considered themselves loyal to the cleric or were a renegade group intent on local control.

About 40 suspected militiamen were captured, a police official said on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.

Muthana was under control of British forces until July, when it became the first province to revert to Iraqi control.

"No multinational forces are there at all," said Maj. Charlie Burbridge, spokesman for British forces in the neighboring province of Basra.

Three U.S. soldiers from the 89th Military Police Brigade were killed Saturday in east Baghdad when a roadside bomb detonated, the U.S. military said. A fourth soldier, assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, died Saturday in an explosion in Diyala, east of the Iraqi capital.

With their deaths, at least 2,969 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

American troops hunting house-to-house for Shiite militia leaders in Baghdad described Christmas as just another day in Iraq.

"In the back of your mind you think about it, but there are no holidays in Iraq," said Staff Sgt. Brandon Scott, a 35-year-old from Woodbridge, Va., and the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, which is part of the Army’s 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Iraq’s Christians quietly celebrated behind closed doors, afraid to identify themselves in an Iraqi public increasingly divided along religious and sectarian lines. Some Christmas Eve church services in Baghdad were canceled because of security concerns.

Police found the handcuffed, tortured bodies of 38 men throughout the country on Sunday, more apparent victims of sectarian violence.