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U.S. Vehicles Attacked; Saddam's Tribe Leader Assassinated

U.S. Vehicles Attacked; Saddam's Tribe Leader Assassinated

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FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) -- Rocket-propelled grenades slammed into U.S. military vehicles in two attacks Tuesday in and around Baghdad after an explosion at a mosque in the town of Fallujah killed 10 Iraqis and injured four others.

Iraqi civilians sifted through the rubble of the mosque for evidence a U.S. missile or bomb strike caused Monday's blast, but American soldiers at the scene disputed that account, saying it was likely caused by explosives at the site.

Postwar violence also has flared in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, where gunmen killed the head of the former leader's tribe and wounded his son, the regional governor said Tuesday.

There were no arrests in Sunday's shooting of Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khattab and it was unclear if the assailants were pro-Saddam militants or had other revenge motives.

Al-Khattab had been close to Saddam but in recent weeks had publicly disavowed him, Tikrit residents said. At the same time, Al-Khattab "had many enemies and he had confiscated a lot of properties and killed many people," said the governor, Hussein al-Jubouri.

In the capital Tuesday, assailants traveling in a vehicle in the central Mustansiryah neighborhood fired a rocket propelled-grenade at a U.S. military vehicle, destroying it and likely causing casualties, Iraqi witnesses said.

One witness, 19-year-old Ali Ibrahim Shakir, said he saw two U.S. soldiers being evacuated onto stretchers but couldn't tell if they were hurt or killed.

A Mercedes traveling alongside the U.S. vehicle was also hit, wounding the Iraqi civilian driver, said witness Mohammed Abdullah. U.S. military spokesmen in Baghdad said they had no immediate information.

Also Tuesday, witnesses said another rocket-propelled grenade slammed into a U.S. truck on a road 12 miles south of Baghdad. The witnesses said that attack caused four casualties but there was no immediate military confirmation.

An explosion over the weekend at an ammunitions depot killed at least 15 people and injured at least four near Hadithah, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, officials said Tuesday.

Metal scavengers dismantled 155 mm artillery rounds, spreading gun powder on the ground at the depot, which housed old Iraqi artillery. A spark there Saturday set off massive explosions, local officials said.

Hadithah policeman Lt. Saad Aziz said there was a large pile of TNT explosives at the depot, and people were smoking there.

"This kind of TNT is very sensitive to heat. A small spark could set the whole thing off," he said.

Abdul Aziz Thalaj, 55, said he and two nephews went to the depot to get scrap metal to sell.

"I was amazed. I found live artillery ammunition. I felt this kind of work is very dangerous," he said from a hospital in Hadithah, his feet covered in gauze and his shoulder and arm badly burned.

Mohammed Nayil Assaf, Hadithah's mayor, put the death toll at 25 and the injured at 6. He said there was a large amount of ammunition stored in the area and insisted U.S. troops had been guarding it only sporadically.

"It was a tragic day for Hadithah," he told the AP outside the town hall, near a 3-foot-high pile of shell casings seized from looters after Saturday's explosion.

In Fallujah, witnesses said the blast took place just before 11 p.m. Monday in a small cinderblock building in the courtyard of the al-Hassan mosque. The explosion blew out the walls and took down the roof.

Hours later, dozens of people gathered around the site shouting anti-American slogans.

"There is no God but Allah, America is the enemy of God," they chanted, as a crane lifted pieces of concrete. A witness said that after the evening prayer, he heard aircraft overhead and then heard an explosion.

On Tuesday morning, about a dozen Iraqis searched the rubble for pieces of metal they said would prove an American attack caused the damage.

"These are pieces of a missile," said Aqeel Ibrahim Ali, 26, holding a box of metal shards. "An airplane shot a missile."

But Sgt. Thomas McMurtry, a reservist with the 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company, said there was no evidence of a U.S. attack.

"They did it to themselves. Clearly, the physical evidence does not support that (a missile strike) in any way," he told The Associated Press. "Whatever blew up was just sitting inside there. There is no evidence that it was anything else but a ground based explosive.

McMurtry, a schoolteacher based in Dayton, Ohio who said he is a former special forces engineer with munitions training, said that if a bomb or missile caused the explosion, there would be shrapnel. He said U.S. army ordnance disposal personnel saw no sign of a missile strike.

Col. Guy Shields, spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said 10 Iraqis were killed and four others wounded.

Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, has been a hotbed of anti-American activity and scene of several confrontations involving U.S. troops.

On Tuesday, a U.S. sweep against remaining pockets of resistance in the so-called "Sunni triangle" north and east of Baghdad entered its third day. Troops detained six people, including a colonel from Saddam's Baath Party, the military said.

U.S. troops have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks, raising fears their mission faces a guerrilla-style insurgency.

At least 20 American and six British troops have been killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared the end of major combat May 1.

The total killed includes Sgt. 1st Class Gladimir Philippe, 37, of Roselle, N.J., and Pfc. Kevin Ott, 27, of Columbus, Ohio, whose remains were found over the weekend. The men had been missing for three days, and the Pentagon listed them Monday as killed in action.

Also, American troops arrested the U.S.-appointed mayor of the southern town of Najaf, 110 miles southwest of Baghdad, on kidnapping and corruption charges. They also detained 62 of his aides -- a step likely to please Najaf's Shiite residents.

The arrest came less than three months after U.S. troops installed the mayor, Abu Haydar Abdul Mun'im. The ex-Iraqi army colonel was unpopular because of his background in Saddam's military.

Abdul Mun'im was replaced by Haydar Mahdi Mattar al Mayali, a former deputy in the mayor's office.

One of the country's top Shiite clerics, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, this week, denouncing U.S. plans to appoint a council to draft a new constitution. The statement demanded elections so Iraqis can elect their own constitutional convention.

Al-Sistani had been largely supportive of American interests since Saddam's ouster. He and another senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, said Monday they favored a peaceful end to the U.S. occupation, and its replacement by a representative Iraqi government.

"What we want is the formation of a government that represents the will of the Iraqi people, by all its sects and ethnic groups," al-Sistani said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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