The attack that killed the two soldiers occurred in eastern Baghdad, a predominantly Shia area that has some Sunni enclaves.

 

Bomb networks

 

The military said the unit has conducted numerous operations against roadside bomb networks in the past month.

 

A US soldier also died from a non-battle related cause on Saturday, the military said. The incident was under investigation.

 

Identities of the soldiers were not released pending notification of relatives.

 

The deaths raised to at least 3,555 members of the US military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

 

Bus ambush

 

Also on Saturday, a group of armed men stormed a minibus and shot dead six men after dragging them out of the vehicle near the Muslim holy city of Karbala.

 

Suspected fighters rounded up during a joint
US-Iraqi operation in Baquba [Reuters]

A local official and a medic said the bus was ambushed in the town of Al-Shikat, west of Karbala, adding that a woman passenger in the bus was released before the men were gunned down.

  

"The men were dragged out of the bus, while the woman travelling with them was allowed to go. The six men were later shot dead," said the official, a member of the municipal council of the nearby town of al-Thamur.

  

He said that one of the victims was Karim Abdul Ridha, a fellow council member.

  

A medic in the Karbala general hospital confirmed the attack.

  

Samarra attack

 

In the northern town of Samarra, armed men attacked a police station and killed two policemen, injured another two policemen and five civilians, a local police officer and a medic said.

  

One armed man, allegedly an Arab foreign fighter, was killed in the clashes.

  

In southeastern Baghdad a civilian was killed and five others wounded in a roadside bomb blast, a medic said.

  

And a former member of executed Saddam Hussein's Baath party was shot dead in the southern city of Amarra, according to police.

 

Maliki's position
 
In other news, Iraq's prime minister has said he supports the policy of arming and training Sunni Arab tribesmen to fight against al-Qaeda.
 
The US strategy of arming and training tribal police units in the western Anbar province has been credited with significantly calming what was once Iraq's most violent region.

Al-Maliki said a committee would be established to
supervise the arming of Sunni tribesmen [EPA]
In an interview with Newsweek magazine last week, Nuri al-Maliki said that arming Sunnis risked creating new militias.
 
But on Friday he said he had been misunderstood.
 
"The government is not afraid of armed tribes, it is afraid of the chaos and ill-discipline that may lead to the presence of new militias," he said in a statement.

"This must be done under the supervision of the Iraqi authorities and through the government."
 
Al-Maliki said that a government committee would be set up to oversee the recruitment and arming of Sunni tribesmen.

'Reaching out'

For his part, the second most senior US military commander in Iraq has denied that "insurgent groups" were being given weapons, but said that his forces were "reaching out".
 
Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno said: "We have not given weapons to any insurgent groups. They have plenty of weapons.

"We have not given weapons to any insurgent groups. They have plenty of weapons"

Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, US military
commander
"I want those weapons to be used against al-Qaeda and not against coalition forces or Iraqi security forces."

The anti-government Sunni groups, he said, "are reaching out to us, and we are reaching back.
 
"They want to fight al-Qaeda, and we think they can help us. And there's a few things that they have to do".

Odierno said US commanders wanted to connect those groups to the Iraqi government within the broader framework of reconciliation.
 
As with previous attempts to quash the uprising with major offensives, he said most senior al-Qaeda leaders fled before the ongoing Arrowhead Ripper military operation.
 
He said: "I think that they knew an operation was coming in Baquba. They watched the news. They understood we had a surge. They understood Baquba was designated as a problem area. So they knew we were going to come sooner or later."
 
Odierno said he believed around 80 per cent of the senior leaders based in the city left in advance of the incursion.