Surge in bloodshed across Iraq kills scores of Iraqis and two American civilians

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Insurgents carried out two dramatic ambushes Wednesday, killing 11 people including two American civilians in a roadside bombing in Basra and an attack on an Iraqi convoy in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials expressed hope that American hostage Jill Carroll would eventually be released, and kidnappers freed the sister of Iraq’s Interior Minister after holding her hostage for two weeks.

The ambushes, in which gunmen also seized two Kenyan engineers, were part of a surge in violence that left scores of Iraqis dead across the country Wednesday.

In the most gruesome development, police said militants used this week’s downing of a U.S. helicopter to carve out a killing field north of Baghdad, slaying more than 40 people on remote roads that Iraqis were forced to use after American troops cordoned off the crash zone.

Thirty people were dragged from their cars Wednesday at crude checkpoints erected on unpaved roads and shot dead execution-style in farming areas in Nibaei, a town near Dujail, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, said police Lt. Qahtan al-Hashmawi.

Since Monday’s crash of a U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopter that killed its two pilots near Mishahda, 25 miles north of Baghdad, American and Iraqi forces cordoned off a large section of the main road near Dujail, police and eyewitnesses said.

More than a dozen other Iraqis died Wednesday in attacks linked to the insurgency.

The increased violence came as authorities prepare to announce the results this week of the Dec. 15 election. U.S. and Iraqi officials expect more attacks as religious and ethnic groups jockey for power in the new government.

In the boldest attack, gunmen opened fire on a convoy of the mobile telephone company Iraqna, killing six security guards and three drivers in the Nafaq al-Shurta district of Baghdad.

Naguib Sawiris, chairman of the Egyptian communications firm that controls Iraqna, said the attackers seized the two Kenyans.

The two American civilians were killed in a roadside bombing in the southern city of Basra. They worked for the Texas-based security company DynCorp and were training Iraqi police. A third American was seriously wounded in the attack, the U.S. Embassy said.

An Associated Press photographer at the scene said two four-wheel-drive vehicles were targeted. The area was surrounded by heavily armed British forces, whose main base in Iraq is in Basra.

The killings occurred as a joint American-Iraqi investigation was under way to find Carroll, the 28-year-old American journalist who was abducted Jan. 7 in Baghdad. The freelance reporter for The Christian Science Monitor was seen in a video aired Tuesday by Al-Jazeera television.

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