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Baghdad - Five United States Marines were killed in a day-long battle and six US soldiers were killed in other clashes during a weekend of bloodletting across Iraq, a US newspaper and the military said.
A reporter for the St Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper wrote that dozens of Iraqis were killed along with the five Marines in 14 hours of fighting on Saturday in western Iraq near the Syrian border. There was no official confirmation of the deaths.
Marine intelligence told the reporter travelling with the Marines that nearly 300 Iraqi fighters launched an offensive, setting off a roadside bomb to lure Marines from their base and then firing 24 mortar rounds.
"It doesn't feel real. It doesn't look real," Lance Corporal Dustin Myshrall told the newspaper. At least nine Marines were wounded and more than 20 Iraqi fighters were captured and taken to the main Marine base near the western town of al-Qaim.
Since March 31, at least 99 US soldiers have died in action in Iraq - more than were killed during last year's three-week war that toppled Saddam Hussein - amid battles against a Sunni insurgency and a new Shi'a revolt.
The US military in Baghdad said one soldier had been killed in al-Anbar province, which stretches from Baghdad to the Syrian border, but did not say where or how the soldier died.
Near the southern town of Diwaniya on Saturday, the US military said three soldiers were killed when a convoy was ambushed at 7pm (15h00GMT). Witnesses said at least seven Iraqis were killed and six wounded in clashes between US-led forces and Shi'a militiamen in the town on Saturday evening.
On Sunday, angry residents pointed to blackened shops and walls bullet-pocked from the firefight that followed. Burned-out cars and two charred military vehicles littered the streets.
In other attacks, the US military said a soldier died after a bomb blast hit a convoy in Baghdad on Saturday. Another soldier was killed and two were wounded by an anti-tank mine near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit the previous day.
Dutch troops traded fire with Iraqis on Saturday near the southern town of Samawa where they and Japanese forces are based. The Dutch military said one Iraqi had been wounded.
At least 498 US soldiers have been killed in action in Iraq since the US-led war began, not including the five Marines reported killed near the Syrian border.
The uprising's leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, declared a two-day truce in the holy city of Najaf, his spokesperson said on Sunday.
Qays al-Khazali told a news conference that Sadr's Mehdi Army militia would halt military operations in and around Najaf during commemorations for the anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad's death. These take place on Monday and Tuesday.
But Khazali also struck a defiant note. "The Americans are escalating the situation and the Mehdi Army is ready," he said.
About 2 500 US troops have been poised on the outskirts of Najaf for several days, with orders to kill or capture Sadr.
US officials demand that the cleric disarm his Mehdi Army and turn himself in to stand trial in an Iraqi court for the murder last year of a moderate Shi'ite cleric in Najaf.
Fallujah, a bastion of Sunni insurgents, enjoyed a second day of calm, but five civilians were killed overnight as they fled US shelling in the nearby town of Karma, witnesses said.
The Americans are demanding that fighters in Fallujah lay down their guns before US Marines lift their siege of the city of 300 000, an Iraqi mediator said.
Hajem al-Al-Hassani, of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said a compromise was being discussed under which Iraqi security forces would control Fallujah, with no US military presence.
"The negotiations have been difficult and a solution is expected to take time," he told Reuters.
US spokesperson Dan Senor said on Saturday that time was running out for a negotiated solution in Fallujah, where the Marines launched a crackdown after the killing and public mutilation of four American private security guards ambushed on March 31.
Witnesses said more public employees were going back to work in Fallujah as calm returned following fierce fighting in which hospital officials say more than 600 people were killed.
Three Japanese flew home, three days after their release by kidnappers who had threatened to kill them unless Japan withdrew its troops from Iraq. Tokyo rejected the demand. Two more Japanese hostages were released on Saturday.
Insurgents have seized about 50 foreigners this month. Most have been freed, but the captors of four Italians killed one and threatened to kill the rest unless Italian troops leave Iraq.
The climate of insecurity has prompted the US military to indefinitely close highways leading north, west and south of Baghdad in a new blow to reconstruction and economic life.