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Iraq Transition

Bombs kill Marines, civilians in Iraq

Army conducting 'criminal probe' into soldiers' deaths

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A car bomb exploded Friday evening in a northwestern Baghdad neighborhood, killing nine Iraqi civilians and wounding 15 others, Iraqi security forces said.

In another incident, five U.S. Marines died when a bomb hit their vehicle near Haqlaniya in Anbar province, the Marines said Friday.

The assault happened Thursday while the troops were conducting combat operations.

They were assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.

In recent weeks American and Iraqi forces have responded to a surge in violence by launching a series of operations against insurgents in Baghdad and in western and northern Iraq.

The Marines' deaths bring the number of U.S. troops killed in the war to 1,690. Twenty-four have been killed in the first nine days of June alone.

Of those June deaths, at least 18 were combat-related.

The U.S. Army disclosed that it is conducting a "criminal investigation" into the deaths of two others.

Capt. Phillip T. Esposito and 1st Lt. Louis E. Allen died about 10 p.m. Tuesday at Forward Operating Base Danger, near Tikrit.

"The initial investigation by responders and military police indicated that a mortar round struck the window on the side of the building where Esposito and Allen were located at the time," a military statement said.

"Upon further examination of the scene by explosive ordnance personnel, it was determined the blast pattern was inconsistent with a mortar attack," the document states.

The Army is looking at a number of scenarios, including accidental death, attack by an intruder or infiltrator -- and fragging, which is the killing or wounding of a fellow soldier.

Both officers were "assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 42nd Infantry Division, New York Army National Guard. Esposito was the company commander; Allen served as a company operations officer," the statement reads.

EU delegates visit

Thursday, a group of European Union members was in Baghdad, marking the first such high-level delegation visit to the country since the ouster of dictator Saddam Hussein.

Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign policy official, and Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw met with Iraqi officials to prepare for an international conference on Iraq.

The EU and the United States are co-sponsors of the conference that will have "three main issues -- one that is related to politics in general. The second related to security, and the third related to what we may call rule of law," Solana said.

The conference will be in Brussels, Belgium, on June 22.

Solana said the delegation was meeting with "everybody," including government leaders and Sunni officials who "are not part of the mainstream of the political system."

"We would like very much to see them incorporated. It will not be a successful transition without the participation of everybody," he said.

Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, said, "We are pleased to have frank dialogue with them [the EU delegation]. They visited Iraq, which was liberated from dictatorship, to show their solidarity with the Iraqi people and pave the way to the conference due to be held in Brussels shortly to help the Iraqi people."

The visit coincided with the announcement that the 55-member National Assembly committee chosen to write a constitution will be expanded to include 15 to 25 non-elected Sunni Arabs.

A large and powerful minority group, Sunni Arabs have been alienated from Iraq's political process since the fall of Saddam Hussein, under whose regime they enjoyed power.

They stayed away from the January 30 transitional assembly election, and they are believed to hold sway over members of the insurgency. The transitional government has been looking for ways to bring Sunni Arabs into the political fold.

Some Shiite members of the committee have expressed their reluctance to grant voting rights to the Sunnis.

Other developments

  • In an apparent assassination, gunmen on Friday shot and killed a police academy commander in the southeastern city of Basra, an Iraqi army official said. The victim was identified as Col. Abdul Karim al-Daraji.
  • At least 17 bodies in civilian clothes were found scattered near a town close to the Syrian border that is considered an insurgent hotbed, with 11 shot in the head and another beheaded, witnesses said Friday. The 11 had their hands tied behind their backs, according to the witnesses. (Full story)
  • A man described as a "terror suspect" was wounded and detained by Task Force Liberty soldiers in Samarra Friday morning, the U.S. military said.
  • CNN's Ayman Mohyeldin, Jennifer Eccleston, Kevin Flower, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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