While Petraeus and Crocker Testify: 9 More U.S. Troops Killed — And Poll Finds Iraqis Want Us Out

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Nine American soldiers died in Iraq on Monday ? all but one killed in vehicle accidents in and around Baghdad, the military said.

The deadliest of the vehicle accidents, in western Baghdad, killed seven Multi-National Division ? Baghdad soldiers and wounded 11, and left two detainees dead and a third injured. The cause of the accident was under investigation, the military said.

In a separate accident, east of Baghdad, an American soldier was killed and two injured when their vehicle flipped and caught fire. A ninth soldier died of injuries sustained Sunday while on patrol in the Kirkuk area of northern Iraq.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told parliament Monday that Iraqi forces are not ready to defend the country without U.S. help despite what he termed major improvements in security in Baghdad since the American troop buildup began this year.

Sunni politicians disputed talk that life was getting better for residents of the capital and blamed al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government for failing to ease sectarian tension.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite appeared before parliament hours before U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and top commander Gen. David Petraeus began a series of appearances before Congress to report on the situation in Iraq since President Bush ordered nearly 30,000 extra troops to Iraq this year.

“There have been tangible improvements in security in the recent period in Baghdad and the provinces but it is not enough,” al-Maliki said. “Despite the security improvement, we still need more efforts and time in order for our armed forces to be able to take over security in all Iraqi provinces from the multinational forces that helped us a great deal in fighting terrorism and outlaws.”

Al-Maliki said violence had dropped 75 percent in the Baghdad area since stepped up military operations began in the city Feb. 14 ? although he offered no detailed figures. Thousands of militants had been killed and captured, he added.

Despite ongoing violence, al-Maliki said his government had managed to prevent the country from descending into allout Sunni-Shiite civil war after the wave of sectarian bloodletting last year.

“We have achieved success in preventing Iraq from descending into sectarian war and I am fully confident that national reconciliation is our only way that takes Iraq into safety,” al-Maliki said.

He also said his Cabinet had finalized a draft bill to allow thousands of former Saddam Hussein supporters to serve in government posts, a major demand of the Sunnis and one of the 18 benchmarks demanded by Congress will begin debate on the measure next week.

Sunni politicians acknowledged that Iraq’s security forces were not ready to defend the country on their own but challenged al-Maliki’s statements that life was improving.

“Al-Maliki was talking about the illusion of improvement in the security situation,” Sunni lawmaker Mohammed al-Dayni. “This is just talk…All streets are blocked with concrete walls and barbed wires…You can see only few people in the streets. People are living a confused and abnormal life.”

Salim Abdullah al-Jubouri, spokesman for the main Sunni bloc in parliament, said the “real solution” to the Iraq crisis was a “fundamental change in the political process,” dominated by Shiite religious parties and their Kurdish allies.

Such views appear to be shared by a large number of Iraqis, according to a according conducted by ABC News, Britain’s BBC, and Japan’s public broadcaster NHK and released Monday.

The poll found that 47 percent of those surveyed want U.S. forces and their coalition allies to leave the country immediately and only 39 percent said their lives were going well. Only 25 percent said their own communities have become safer in the past half year.

The poll was conducted August 17 to 24 with 2,212 randomly chosen adult Iraqis from across the country. The poll has a margin of sampling error of 2.5 percentage points.

In the north, a suicide car bomber killed eight people and injured 20 others in an attack near an Iraqi army headquarters near Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, the local mayor Najim Abdullah said.

Also Monday, U.S. and Iraqi troops killed three civilians during a raid in Baghdad’s Shiite slum of Sadr City, police and residents said.

U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl said the raid targeted a suspected Shiite extremist who eluded capture. He said there were no reports of civilian or military casualties.

Residents showed AP Television News the coffins of the people they said were killed in the raid ? a woman and her two daughters. Residents lifted the blanket from inside one of the simple wood coffins to show the bodies of two little girls lying next to each other.

A police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, confirmed the woman and two girls were killed in the firefight.

“Neither the government protects us nor does Bush defend us,” lamented resident Abu Ali. “What shall we do?”

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