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U.S. Troops Kill Ambushers in Iraq

U.S. Troops Kill Ambushers in Iraq

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BALAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. troops killed 11 Iraqis who ambushed a convoy on a highway north of Baghdad Friday, hours after mortar rounds slammed into a U.S. base in the same area, injuring 18 American soldiers, the military said.

Another U.S. soldier was shot and killed while guarding the Baghdad museum, the U.S. military said Friday.

The U.S. military said 11 men attacked the convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire near Balad, 55 miles north of the capital. Soldiers of the Army's 4th Infantry Division fired back, killing all the men. None of the Americans was injured.

Late Thursday, blasts from four mortar rounds rocked a huge U.S. base near Balad, injuring 18 soldiers, said Maj. Edward Bryja, of the Army's 3rd Corps Support Command.

Two soldiers were seriously injured, with one undergoing surgery in a hospital located on the base and another evacuated for treatment, Bryja said. Others suffered cuts and small punctures from flying shrapnel, and nine soldiers quickly went back to duty, Army officials said.

Soldiers said flares and tracer bullets sliced across the night sky after the blasts.

"This is the first time the base was attacked -- and the first time we've seen mortars," said Sgt. Grant Calease, who said he and other soldiers would nonetheless carry on with a July 4th steak barbecue.

The wounded soldiers belonged to Task Force Iron Horse, a 33,000-member unit that has been conducting raids in mainly Sunni Muslim central Iraq -- the latest sweep aimed at putting down insurgents who have been staging daily attacks on American troops.

On Friday, attackers detonated an explosive on a highway in Baghdad's western outskirts, injuring three passengers in a civilian car and two U.S. soldiers traveling in a Humvee convoy, according to an Associated Press photographer on the scene.

On Thursday evening, a sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier manning the gunner's hatch of a Bradley fighting vehicle outside the national museum, Pruden said. His name was not immediately available.

Hours before the attack, the national museum displayed several artifacts that were looted after the fall of Baghdad and later recovered. The museum also showed several items from the Treasures of Nimrud, which were found hidden in a bank vault weeks ago. Curators acknowledged that many of the museum's treasures remain unaccounted for.

U.S. soldiers have been beset by daily attacks from an increasingly bold insurgency, raising fears of a political and military quagmire just two months after President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.

At least 27 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile fire since Bush's statement.

Despite the attacks, many of the U.S. troops planned July 4th barbecues at bases around the country.

"We should be celebrating with our families. It is sad. Everybody wants to go home. I am glad that we came here to liberate Iraq, but I think it is time for soldiers to see their families," said Sgt. Thas Eagans from Irving, Texas.

A few were invited to join Arnold Schwarzenegger for a screening at Baghdad International Airport of the muscle-bound actor's latest movie, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines."

Schwarzenegger addressed a rambunctious crowd of soldiers in one of Saddam Hussein's former presidential palaces located inside the airport compound.

"It is really wild driving around here, I mean the poverty, and you see there is no money, it is disastrous financially and there is the leadership vacuum, pretty much like in California right now," he said.

Schwarzenegger, 55, has indicated he may run for governor of Californian as a Republican if residents there vote to recall the Gov. Gray Davis.

"I play terminator, but you guys are the true terminators," he told the soldiers, before heading to the base at Balad that came under attack.

In the north, American forces planned joint celebrations with Kurdish officials. The Kurds celebrate July 4 as the anniversary of their first government's election in 1992.

U.S. officials have said the insurgency is being fueled by doubts about Saddam's fate and crushing it is crucial.

The American sweep, dubbed Sidewinder, has netted at least 20 "high-value" targets, but none of the most wanted Iraqi fugitives. Arms and ammunition, including hundreds of rocket propelled grenades, or RPGs, have also been seized.

On Thursday, U.S. troops near Baqubah, northeast of the capital, tried to lure attackers into an ambush on a stretch of road known as "RPG Alley" because of the frequent attacks on U.S. forces there. One suspect was killed and three captured in the operation, said Lt. Kurt Chapman, with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

Also Thursday, Washington put a $25 million bounty on Saddam's head and offered $15 million for information leading to the capture of either of his sons, Udai and Qusai.

The reward for Saddam matches the $25 million that Washington is offering its other top fugitive: Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida leader missing since U.S. forces helped dislodge the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

The last reported sighting of Saddam was on April 9, a day before the capital fell, in northeast Baghdad. He was the target of at least two major U.S. air strikes, but there was never any proof either was successful. Based on information from captured colleagues, officials believe they were not.

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

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