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IN THE IRAQI DESERT (AP) - A suicide bomber in a taxi killed four American soldiers in an attack Saturday. Iraq's vice president identified the bomber as an Iraqi army officer and said suicide attacks will now be "routine military policy."
"We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land," Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said. "This is just the beginning. You'll hear more pleasant news later."
The suicide bombing was the first against U.S. and British forces since the invasion began.
The bomber struck at a U.S. checkpoint on the highway north of the city of Najaf, U.S. military officers said. A taxi stopped close to the checkpoint, and the driver waved for help. The soldiers approached the car, and it exploded, Capt. Andrew Wallace told Associated Press Television News.
Wallace said the victims were part of the Army's 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
U.S. Central Command in Doha, Qatar, confirmed the incident, saying the soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division were killed at 10:40 a.m. when a car bomb exploded at the unit's checkpoint in central Iraq.
Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart said that kind of attack was "a symbol of an organization that's starting to get a little bit desperate."
At a news conference in Baghdad, Ramadan identified the bomber as Ali Jaafar al-Noamani, a noncommissioned army officer and father of several children. A detailed statement on the bombing would be issued later, he said.
There have been warnings of suicide attacks in Iraq.
Iraqi dissidents and Arab media have claimed that Saddam Hussein has opened a training camp for Arab volunteers willing to carry out suicide bombings against U.S. forces in Iraq. And last month, terror mastermind Osama bin Laden urged Iraqis in an audio tape aired on Arabic television to employ the tactic against the Americans. Other Arab militants also spoke about suicide missions against the invading armies.
Such suicide attacks are common by Palestinian militants in targeting the better equipped Israeli army during the uprising on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri was asked in a mid-March television interview, whether Iraq would use the tactic of suicide attacks against the invading American forces.
"We have prepared ourselves for all kinds of war. For many months, tens of thousands have volunteered to serve as martyrdom-seekers (suicide attackers) in the battle with the American enemy," he said. "We trained them and readied them. We have prepared ourselves for street fighting and desert fighting."
U.S. commanders said the attack would not force the coalition to make operational changes.
"We continue to place force protection as our highest priority, but that doesn't mean we're going to back into little holes and hide," said Col. Will Grimsley, commander of the 1st Brigade.
Speaking from near Najaf, Grimsley said his troops were going to get on with the job they'd been sent to do: liberate Iraq.
"The local population that's here and happy that we're here _ they tell us all the time, they've been feeling the same kind of terrorist repression for years and now unfortunately it's hit American soldiers," he said. "I think it only tightens the resolve of why we're here."
The biggest suicide bombing against the U.S. military abroad was in Lebanon when a truck packed with explosives drove into the U.S. Marine base at Beirut International Airport and exploded in the early morning Oct. 23, 1983, as the troops slept. The attack killed 241 American servicemen and leveled the base. Simultaneously, a Beirut base for French soldiers was attacked by another suicide bomber, killing 58 paratroopers.
The Americans and the French were in Lebanon as part of an ill-fated peacekeeping mission to end Lebanon's civil war. Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militants were blamed for the attacks.
In 1996, a truck bomb at the U.S. Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia killed 19 U.S. servicemen.
(Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)