The violence came one day after the government announced the arrest of a man it described as a key figure in the country's most feared terrorist group, and a top official said the noose was tightening around its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The pipeline, which connects oil fields in Dibis with the northern city of Kirkuk, about 35 kilometers (20 miles) to the southeast, was destroyed late Friday, an official of the state-run North Oil Co. said on condition of anonymity. He said it would take at least four days to repair the line.
Insurgents have regularly targeted Iraq's oil infrastructure, cutting exports and denying the country funds badly needed for reconstruction.
In Baghdad, insurgents detonated a roadside bomb in the west of the city, killing two civilians who were passing by in a vehicle at the time. Their slumped bodies could be seen in a small white car littered with holes from flying shrapnel, its windshield smashed in the blast.
It was not clear what the target of the attack was. U.S. Lt. Col. Clifford Kent said a U.S. tank was nearby at the time, but it was not damaged.
``While we were going to work, just we arrived near those tanks, the blast occurred. And as you see, blood soaked us for doing nothing,'' Mohammed al-Duleimi, told Associated Press Television News.
In the northern city of Mosul, residents found the body of Raiedah Mohammed Wageh Wazan, a presenter for the local state TV station who'd been missing since Feb. 20 when she was kidnapped by masked gunmen, her husband Salim Saad-Allah said. Her corpse was found Friday. She had been shot in the head.
A suicide bomber in a car killed an Iraqi national guardsman and injured 7 people, including two civilians, near Musayyib about 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad, Police Cap. Muthana Khalid said .
Earlier a car bomb exploded near a convoy of Iraqi National Guard troops in Iskandariyah, witnesses said, also south of Baghdad. No casualties were reported.
Also Saturday, the U.S. command announced the death a day earlier of a U.S. soldier killed a during operations west of the capital in Anbar province, where the military launched a massive sweep last week to root out insurgents.
Three other U.S. soldiers were killed and nine wounded Friday when insurgents ambushed a U.S. patrol in Tarmiyah, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Baghdad. Another soldier died of ``non-battle injuries'' Friday, the military said, adding it was investigating the incident.
The operation to sweep out insurgents in Ramadi and other Euphrates River cities began Sunday. Witnesses said U.S. forces clashed Saturday with insurgents in central Ramadi. Five wounded were treated at a local hospital, said Dr. Munim al-Alawni.
In Haditha, as in other towns in Anbar province, U.S. military vehicles equipped with loudspeakers drove through streets offering US$25 million (euro19 million) for information leading to the arrest of al-Zarqawi - thought to be one of the masterminds behind a wave of car bombings, kidnappings, and beheadings across Iraq.
``We are very close to al-Zarqawi, and I believe that there are few weeks separating us from him,'' Iraq's interim national security adviser, Mouwafak al-Rubaie, told The Associated Press.
He described the latest alleged terrorist capture as another blow to al-Zarqawi's organization, still reeling from previous arrests and the killing of Omar Hadid, another of his senior aides, in November's assault on the city of Fallujah.
Talib Mikhlif Arsan Walman al-Dulaymi, also known as Abu Qutaybah, was arrested Sunday in a raid by Iraqi security services in Annah, a Sunni triangle town 160 miles (257 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, the government said.
The government said Al-Dulaymi was a top aide to the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi, who has described himself as al-Qaida's leader in Iraq. Al-Dulaymi was responsible for finding safe houses and transportation for members of the terrorist group, according to the announcement.
Also arrested in Sunday's raid was Ahmad Khalid Marad Ismail al-Rawi, identified as one of al-Zarqawi's drivers. Both have family names indicating they are from the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
Iraqi authorities have been eager to promote the message that they are making headway in their fight against the insurgency. Earlier this week, state television broadcast what it said were confessions by Syrian-trained militants.
On Thursday, the government said it had captured the leader of an al-Qaida-affiliated terrorist cell in Baqouba, north of Baghdad, who was allegedly responsible for carrying out a string of beheadings in Iraq. And last week, police said they'd arrested two other leaders of the insurgency in Baqouba, including a top aide to al-Zarqawi named Haidar Abu Bawari.
But al-Dulaymi's role was crucial because he ``filled the role of key lieutenant for the al-Zarqawi network, arranging safe houses and transportation as well as passing packages and funds to al-Zarqawi,'' the government said.
It added that ``his extensive contacts and operational ability throughout western Iraq made him a critical figure in the Zarqawi network.''
According to al-Rubaie, government security services managed to infiltrate al-Zarqawi's network - a possible sign of its growing weakness.
``The Iraqi security forces have managed to insert embedded policemen inside the al-Zarqawi group, and the second element is that the Iraqi people, especially those in the so-called Sunni triangle, became more cooperative in informing the police about terrorists' activities and movement - especially the foreigners,'' al-Rubaie said.
Confronting the violence will be the top priority of Iraq's new government, and the country came one step closer to acquiring a prime minister after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani endorsed conservative Islamic Dawa party leader Ibrahim al-Jaafari for the job.
The Iranian-born al-Sistani is the country's most powerful Shiite cleric, and his endorsement should solidify al-Jaafari's nomination by the United Iraq Alliance, which emerged the dominant political force in Jan. 30 elections.
Associated Press writer Yahya Barzanji in Kirkuk contributed to this report.
Saturday February 26, 2005 1:16 PM By SAMEER N. YACOUB Associated Press Writer