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Wedeman: Coalition casualties mounting

Ben Wedemen
Ben Wedemen

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed in a blast near the Iraqi city of Fallujah on Saturday and U.S. forces fired on targets near the site in Tikrit where six soldiers died when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed.

CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman, who is in Baghdad, talked to CNN Anchor Fredricka Whitfield about the latest coalition casualties.

WEDEMAN: The coalition death toll continues to climb. The latest attack occurred just to the west of Fallujah on the main highway between Baghdad and the Jordanian border. Those were two soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division. They were killed when their Bradley fighting vehicle drove by a roadside bomb. That bomb was clearly very big -- big enough to cause serious damage to that vehicle and also to cause the ammunition in that vehicle to explode, making it more difficult for anyone to rescue those inside. One soldier in that vehicle was wounded.

This attack brings to at least 35 the coalition troops killed within the last seven days alone. In Baghdad last night, we were told by coalition sources a very large raid took place. In that raid they arrested 12 people they believe were involved in the October 26 rocket attack on the Rasheed hotel.

Until that attack, that had been one of the main residences for both military and civilian personnel with the coalition. Now the same coalition commanders told us at this point they believe there are about 500 to 1,000 former regime "power brokers," as they called them, operating in the capital. In addition to around 50 so-called "foreign fighters" now in Baghdad.

Describing the situation here in Baghdad as extremely dangerous and volatile, a spokesman for the International Red Cross in Geneva announced today they would be closing their offices in Baghdad and in Basra, the main southern Iraqi city. This has happened in the aftermath of a security evaluation that they undertook following the October 27 car bombing of their headquarters in Baghdad, leaving 112 people dead, among them two Iraqi Red Cross staff members.

WHITFIELD: Since many of the Red Cross workers there are Iraqis, is there an urging that many of them will try to leave the region while those offices are temporarily closed?

WEDEMAN: There are about 600 Iraqi employees of the Red Cross. They will not be leaving the country. In fact the Red Cross is hoping to somehow maintain some of its operations despite the closure. And of course the Red Cross does a variety of things in Iraq. One thing it does is monitor the conditions of Iraqi prisoners held by coalition forces and those visits apparently will continue.

Those visits are undertaken by non-Iraqi staff, and they will be aided by Iraqi staff on the ground. This doesn't mean that the Red Cross is completely shutting down its offices in Baghdad and Basra, but it's going to be working out of some sort of other facilities, but those operations will continue.

WHITFIELD: Around the time of the deadly explosion at the Red Cross offices, there was a very deadly explosion at Al Rasheed hotel in Baghdad. Where does the investigation into the hotel bombing stand?

WEDEMAN: According to coalition commanders there was a raid last night. They rounded up 12 people they believed were involved in the planning, coordination, and the financing of that attack. They still have a few suspects they haven't rounded up, That's basically where that stands with coalition commanders say they do believe they are achieving progress in tying down the security situation.

Those words are belied by the mere fact that there are these daily attacks, but they are trying. They say they have a plan to crack down on the insurgency or resistance, but clearly that plan is in its initial stages.

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