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Grenade Attack Kills U.S. Soldier

Grenade Attack Kills U.S. Soldier

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A U.S. soldier and an eight-year-old Iraqi child were killed in and around the capital Wednesday, as pro-Saddam Hussein insurgents unleashed a string of violent attacks on the eve of a recently banned Baath Party holiday.

The soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a supply convoy west of Baghdad near the Abu Ghraib prison, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The grenade blasted into the soldier's truck, hurling him out, as the 20-vehicle convoy passed along a main highway Wednesday morning. Soldiers at first believed a bomb was remotely detonated as the convoy passed.

Sgt. Diego Baez, who escaped without injury from the truck, wept over his comrade's death.

"We slept next to each other just last night. He was my best friend," Baez said.

U.S. soldiers have come under increasingly ferocious attacks by suspected Saddam loyalists in recent weeks -- reaching an average of 12 attacks a day. A total 33 U.S. soldiers have been killed in hostile action since President Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1.

The attacks Wednesday came a day before a holiday marking the 1968 coming to power of Saddam's now-dissolved Baath Party. U.S. officials have warned of possible stepped up attacks to mark the anniversary, and the new Iraq Governing Council canceled the holiday, along with others from Saddam's regime.

A half hour after the blast, the truck was still burning on the road near Abu Ghraib, just west of Baghdad, site of Saddam's most notorious prison. The convoy, made up of reservists from a supply unit based in Puerto Rico, had been heading to a U.S. base near the Jordanian border.

"We need more protection. We've seen enough. We've stayed in Iraq long enough," said Spc. Carlos McKenzie, a member of the convoy.

After the attack, troops began house-to-house searches in nearby villages. One resident, Mohammed al-Qazi, said the bombing was the work of men from the tense cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, farther down the road. "It was not people from Abu Ghraib," he said.

Those cities are part of the so-called "Sunni Triangle," an area west and north of Baghdad where pro-Saddam insurgents have been carrying out attacks against the American occupation force at a rate of 12 each day.

In the attack that killed the Iraqi child, an assailant threw a grenade into a U.S. military vehicle guarding a bank in the upscale al-Mansour neighborhood in west Baghdad. The soldier was injured and taken to a military hospital along with four adult Iraqi bystanders who were also injured, said Maj. Kevin West of the 4th Battalion, 1st Field Artillery.

"They're killing more Iraqis than they are Americans," West said, shaking his head.

In the extreme south of Baghdad, an explosion badly damaged a U.S. Humvee and three U.S. casualties were seen taken away by an Iraqi witness. The coalition had no information on that incident.

"We were home when we heard a strong explosion and we came out and we saw a U.S. vehicle on fire," said Ameer Jabar, a 22-year-old student.

Also Wednesday, a U.S. Marine died in the southern city of Hilla when he fell from the roof of a building he was guarding, the military said. The soldier was taken to a hospital but died of his injuries.

The deaths highlighted the long and painful road left for coalition forces as they try to stabilize Iraq.

On Tuesday, the American administrator of Iraq linked the length of the U.S. occupation to Iraq's political process, saying that American forces would remain in the country until Iraqis agree on a new constitution and set up a democratic government.

"We have no desire to stay a day longer than necessary," L. Paul Bremer said. "The timing of how long the coalition stays here is now in the hands of the Iraqi people."

The new Governing Council -- Iraq's first postwar national body -- was meeting again Wednesday to discuss security and education matters, said Nouri al-Badran, spokesman for the Iraqi National Accord, which holds several seats on the council. On Tuesday, it decided to set up special courts to try former members of Saddam Hussein's regime who are accused of involvement in mass executions, torture and other human rights violations.

U.N. officials said a council delegation will visit the U.N. Security Council on July 22, when the world body is to discuss its role in postwar Iraq.

The Governing Council, whose members were selected rather than elected, is meant to be the forerunner to a 200-250 member constitutional assembly that would start drafting a constitution in September. That is expected to take nine months to a year and free elections to pick a government are expected to follow.

But even talk of removing coalition soldiers from Iraq seemed premature while guerrilla-style attacks against U.S. forces are increasing and many major countries are balking at the idea of sending peacekeepers to replace exhausted American troops.

Many American soldiers thought they'd be home this summer, but their hopes were dashed in a U.S. Army e-mail to spouses Sunday.

"I'm tired of going to bed wondering if I'm going to wake up in the morning," said Spc. David Myers Jr. of the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment in Habaniyah, west of Baghdad.

Late Tuesday, the U.S. Central Command said in a news release that it still intended to remove 3rd Infantry soldiers "by September, pending international or U.S. replacement units. As always, the security situation could affect deployments and redeployments."

The increasing frequency and sophistication of the attacks -- and growing doubts about the basis for the war -- have contributed to the decision by some countries not to contribute troops.

On Tuesday, France ruled out sending troops, following India and Germany.

The Bush administration has scored some success in recruiting other countries to help patrol Iraq. Poland will contribute 2,300 soldiers to a brigade that will also include units from Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Lithuania.

A second brigade will have 1,640 Ukrainians and the third 1,100 Spanish troops as well as units from Honduras, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador and Nicaragua.

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

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