"Two soldiers were killed and five were injured near Baiji at
8.22pm (1722 GMT) on 4 February, when an improvised explosive device exploded while on patrol. The wounded were transported to a local treatment facility," the military said on Saturday.

 

The deaths raise to 1441 the number of US military personnel
whose lives have been lost in Iraq since Washington led its invasion in spring 2003.
  

Meanwhile, a purported Iraqi group - the Army of Ansar al-Sunna - said in a statement posted on a website on Friday it had killed 29 Iraqis and taken seven prisoners when it ambushed a 50-strong Iraqi police convoy this week.

 

"The lions of God yesterday set a trap for a National Guard convoy at Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad. After a fierce battle, the mujahidin killed 29 people, burned four trucks soldiers were riding in, and took seven prisoners," the group said.

 

Iraqi forces intimidated

 

In related news, the intimidation of Iraqi soldiers by anti-US forces has hampered efforts to build a reliable security force, the US general in charge of training Iraqi troops said on Friday.

 

Petraeus believes Iraqis will be
ready to take over security

Army Lieutenant-General David Petraeus, speaking from Baghdad to reporters at the Pentagon, said the Iraqi units had suffered "losses due to severe intimidation", but he offered no specifics. He did not cite an absentee or desertion rate.

 

By next week, when 3500 replacements become available for duty, the 90 battalions of police, army and other types of security forces will be at 80% of their intended manpower levels, Petraeus said.

 

Referring to the overall state of training, Petraeus said "considerable momentum has been achieved" towards reaching the point where Iraqi forces can take the lead role. He said Iraqis already are taking the lead in 12 of the country's 18 provinces.