NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq — A car bomb killed eight U.S. Marines outside Fallujah on Saturday, the deadliest attack against the U.S. military in nearly six months. Marines pounded guerrilla positions on the outskirts of Fallujah, where American forces are gearing up for a major assault on the insurgent stronghold.
In Baghdad, another car bomb exploded outside an Arabic television network's offices, killing seven people and injuring 19 in the biggest attack against a news organization since the occupation began last year.
It was a day in which at least 30 people died in politically motivated violence across the country — stark evidence of a security situation threatening to spiral out of control.
And early today, a Japanese official said a decapitated body wrapped in an American flag and found in an insurgent-controlled section of Baghdad was that of a Japanese man kidnapped by Islamic militants.
Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said in Tokyo that the government confirmed that the body found Saturday was that of Shosei Koda, 24.
An al-Qaida-linked group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi showed Koda, a backpacker, on a video posted on a militant Web site Tuesday. The group vowed to behead Koda within 48 hours unless Japan withdrew its troops from Iraq. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi quickly rejected that demand, saying he would not give in to terrorists.
South of Baghdad, witnesses said a U.S. convoy came under attack, prompting Iraqi forces to open fire randomly and throw hand grenades, hitting three minibuses and three vans. At least 14 people were killed, hospital officials said.
The Marine deaths came when a car bomb went off next to a truck southwest of Baghdad, said Maj. Clark Watson of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Nine other Marines were wounded in the attack in western Anbar province, which includes Fallujah and other insurgent strongholds, the military said.
It was the biggest number of American military deaths in a single day since May 2, when nine U.S. troops were killed in separate mortar attacks and roadside bombings in Baghdad, Ramadi and Kirkuk.
American forces are preparing for a major assault on Fallujah in an effort to restore control to a swath of Sunni Muslim towns north and west of the capital ahead of crucial national elections due by Jan. 31.
On Saturday, insurgents fired mortars at Marine positions outside Fallujah. U.S. troops responded with "the strongest artillery barrage in recent weeks," said Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Lyle Gilbert.
Later, a Marine Harrier jet bombed a guerrilla mortar position inside Fallujah, then strafed it with machine-gun fire, Gilbert said. He had no reports of insurgent casualties.
Crowds of Iraqis peered skyward as two warplanes circled over the rebel-held city, where large explosions rumbled Saturday afternoon. Insurgents fired rockets and mortars toward U.S. Marine positions.
"This is very painful for Fallujah. I think they're destroying the town and killing families there," said Saadoun Mohamed, a 35-year-old driver near Fallujah.
"It's very complicated. I don't know how to solve this problem," he said through an Iraqi Marine translator.
Clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents also started Saturday in Ramadi, west of Fallujah. Two policemen were killed and four Iraqis injured in the crossfire, said Dr. Saleh al-Duleimi of the Ramadi General Hospital.
In Baghdad, the car bomb exploded outside the office of the Al-Arabiya television network, a satellite broadcaster based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Seven people were killed and 19 injured, police and hospital officials said.
Three bodies, including one of a woman, were mangled beyond recognition, said Al-Arabiya correspondent Najwa Qassem. It could not be determined whether any of those bodies were of Al-Arabiya employees. However, she confirmed that one guard and one administration worker were among the dead.
The blast collapsed the first floor of the building, where staffers were meeting, said Saad al-Husseini, a correspondent of MBC, a sister channel of Al-Arabiya based in the same building.
Employees "were trapped between fire and the shattering shards of glass," he said. That "led to the high number of casualties. We were all there."
Al-Arabiya's managing editor, Abdulrahman al-Rashed, said seven people remained missing.
A militant group calling itself the "1920 Brigades" claimed responsibility for the attack, blasting Al-Arabiya as "Americanized spies speaking in Arabic tongue" in a statement posted on a Web site. The station is owned by Saudi investors.
"We have threatened them to no avail that they are the mouthpiece of the American occupation in Iraq," the statement said, warning of more attacks against this "treacherous network." It was impossible to verify the claim's authenticity.
Al-Rashed, an outspoken critic of Islamic militants and terror attacks, said the station will continue to operate from Iraq.
"This is our job and we won't succumb to pressure," he said from Dubai.
The Iraqi police shooting south of Baghdad came after an American convoy was attacked early Saturday with roadside bombs, witnesses said. After the Americans pulled out, Iraqi police and National Guards arrived on the scene and began firing wildly, the witnesses said. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.
Three minibuses and three vans were hit on the street near Haswa, 25 miles south of Baghdad, witnesses said.
Abdul Razzaq al-Janabi, director of Iskandariyah General Hospital, said 14 people were killed and 10 others injured. More wounded were taken to other hospitals. Reporters saw bloody bodies riddled with bullet holes inside the buses.
In Baghdad, Mohammed Bashar al-Faydhi, a spokesman for the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, demanded a government investigation into "this massacre" because "Iraqi policemen are carrying out such crimes."
Al-Faydhi also said a bid to mediate a peaceful solution to the Fallujah standoff failed because the government demanded that the city hand over extremists, including al-Zarqawi. Hard-line clerics who run the city said al-Zarqawi is not there.
"There is no good news on the horizon in finding a solution," al-Faydhi said. "There is a belief among the Fallujah people that the Americans will invade the city even if the Arab fighters leave."
Marines mounted a three-week siege of Fallujah in April but called off the offensive after a public outcry over civilian casualties. The siege was launched after militants ambushed and killed four American contractors, mutilated their bodies and hung them from a bridge.
This time, U.S. officials insist that the final order for an all-out attack will come from Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, and Iraqi forces will join the fight. American officials estimate up to 5,000 Islamic militants, Saddam Hussein loyalists and common criminals are holed up in Fallujah.
Allawi met Saturday in Baghdad with tribal leaders from the area and told them "the door remained open" for a peaceful settlement in Fallujah, the prime minister's press office said.
But Allawi added that the government "owed it to the Iraqi people" not to let terrorists use Fallujah as a base of operations.