14 US Marines killed in Iraq

Fourteen U.S. Marines and a civilian interpreter were killed in western Iraq.

The Marines, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), were killed in action early Wednesday when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device, the military said. One Marine was also wounded in the attack.

The incident occurred during combat operations approximately two kilometers south of Haditha, 220 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

Names of those killed are being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense.

The latest losses come on the heels of the deaths of seven U.S. Marines in combat two days ago in the volatile Euphrates Valley of western Iraq and took place as the Bush administration is talking about handing more security responsibility to the Iraqis and drawing down forces next year.

At least 39 American service members have been killed in Iraq since July 24 - all but two in combat. In addition, the Iraqi Defense Ministry said that since the beginning of April, more than 2,700 Iraqis - about half of them civilians - had been killed in insurgency-related incidents.

Six of the seven Marines killed Monday died near Haditha and the seventh was killed in a suicide bombing in Hit to the southeast. The extremist Ansar al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for killing the six Marines.

Masked gunmen showed up in the Haditha public market Monday afternoon displaying helmets, flak jackets and other equipment they said were taken from the bodies of the dead Marines.

Fighting has intensified in recent weeks in Haditha, Hit and other dusty towns along the Euphrates River as American forces step up efforts to seal off the approaches to the Syrian border and prevent foreign fighters from entering the country.

The Marines launched a series of operations in the region in May and June in hopes of pacifying the area so that Iraqi military and civilian forces could assume effective control. But the insurgents have proven resilient, the AP reports.

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