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Car bombs kill Iraqi guardsmen

Two car bombs killed seven Iraqi national guardsmen and a rocket barrage hit a police academy Monday as insurgents kept up their offensive to subdue Iraq's beleaguered security forces. U.S. jets pounded suspected militant positions in a Baghdad slum.

Two U.S. soldiers with the 1st Infantry Division were killed in separate incidents Monday near Balad, north of the capital. The first died in a car crash and the second was killed when a patrol came under fire as it returned from the crash, the military said. More than 1,040 U.S. military members have died since the start of U.S. operations in Iraq in March 2003.

The American attack took place before dawn in the Sadr City neighborhood, where residents said explosions lit up the night sky for hours, leaving a trail of mangled vehicles, damaged buildings and shards of glass. At least two children wrapped in bloodstained bandages could be seen lying in hospital beds and one man suffered burns from head to toe.

Dr. Qassem Saddam of the Imam Ali hospital said the strikes killed at least five people and wounded 46 _ including 15 women and nine children. The U.S. military said the claim of such high casualties was "suspect."

Lt. Col. Jim Hutton, a U.S. Army spokesman, said insurgents also fired three mortar rounds at a nearby Army base, but the shells fell short and exploded in a civilian neighborhood.

U.S. warplanes struck again late Monday, residents said. Loud explosions echoed through the neighborhood, but there was no immediate word on casualties.

The military has launched a sweeping crackdown against Shiite fighters loyal to renegade cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the sprawling slum _ named after the cleric's late father _ in an effort to dismantle his militia before elections slated for January.

The first car bomb Monday struck a seven-vehicle national guard patrol in the northeastern city of Mosul, killing at least four guardsmen and wounding three others, police said.

A suicide attacker later detonated an explosives-packed vehicle at a national guard checkpoint near the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, killing at least three guardsmen and wounding several other people, police said.

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi warned that a "decisive military solution" could soon befall the rebel stronghold of Fallujah if a political one is not found.

In east Baghdad, insurgents also fired several mortar rounds that hit a police academy on Palestine Street, said an Interior Ministry spokesman, Col. Najah Shakre said. There were no reports of injuries.

Also Monday, the Iranian Embassy announced that Fereidoun Jahani, the Iranian consul in Karbala, had been freed after 57 days in captivity. The diplomat was seized while traveling between Baghdad and Karbala, said Abbas Attar, director of the Iranian ambassador's office in Baghdad.

Later Monday, Egypt's Middle East News Agency reported that an Egyptian engineer working with a telecommunications company who was kidnapped in Iraq last week was freed. There was no immediate government confirmation of the report.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, announced a second set of murder charges in as many weeks against members of the same Army battalion deployed in Baghdad.

The statement identified the latest two American soldiers to be charged as Staff Sgt. Johnny Horne Jr. and Staff Sgt. Cardenas Alban, both from Company C, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment from Fort Riley, Kan.

Prewar assessment predicted postwar strife

WASHINGTON _ The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of a U.S.-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said Monday.

The estimate came in two classified reports prepared for President Bush in January 2003 by the National Intelligence Council, an independent group that advises the director of central intelligence. The assessments predicted that a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqprone to internal conflict.

Case against Chalabi closed, judge says

BAGHDAD _ A senior Iraqi judge said Monday that he had closed a case brought against Ahmad Chalabi, the former exile once backed by the Pentagon, who had been suspected of involvement in counterfeiting.

The judge, Zuhair al-Maliky, said he took the action about a week and a half ago because he had decided "the evidence was not enough to bring the case to trial." If more evidence emerges, he said, the case will be reopened.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

NEW BORDER GUARDS: New Iraqi border guards hold up their certificates during a graduation ceremony at the Jordanian International Police Training Center in Muwaqqar, Jordan, Monday. The first batch of 458 Iraqis concluded training with a U.S. border patrol team on border enforcement, customs and passport control.