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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A roadside bomb blasted a U.S. convoy in north Baghdad on Monday, killing an American soldier and his Iraqi interpreter, the military reported, and the top American commander announced plans to establish an Iraqi militia to patrol the country.
The bomb attack wounded three other soldiers from the 1st Armored Division, and an Iraqi bystander helped pull the Americans from their Humvees, saving the life of at least one of them, the military said.
The death brought to 152 the number of U.S. troops killed in action since the March 20 start of war -- five more than during the 1991 Gulf War.
"One man who worked at a nearby stand helped the soldiers out of the vehicles. That probably saved one soldier's life," said Ld. Col. John Kem at the scene of the attack.
Two American soldiers and an Iraqi employee of a U.N.-affiliated relief agency were killed Sunday. The soldiers died in an ambush by attackers using rocket-propelled grenades and small arms near Tal Afar, a town west of the northern city of Mosul.
Meanwhile, the new chief of American and allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gen. John Abizaid, visited the country for the first time since taking over from Gen. Tommy Franks, meeting with commanders in Baghdad.
In a bid to lower the profile of American troops, who have come under daily attack, Abizaid said he would create a nearly 7,000-strong force of Iraqis to work with U.S. soldiers. It would consist of eight battalions of armed Iraqi militiamen, each with about 850 men.
They will be trained by conventional U.S. forces -- a job usually handled by American special operations forces -- and are expected to be ready to begin operating within 45 days, he said.
"An Iraqi militia will be a localized effort to assist local governors in running their areas; it will assist coalition forces on an as needed basis to put an Iraqi face on things," said Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway in Hilla, south of Baghdad.
The area of Sunday's convoy attack near Tal Afar, 240 miles northwest of Baghdad, had been relatively peaceful in recent weeks.
Tal Afar lies outside the so-called "Sunni Triangle," an area north and west of Baghdad where some support for Saddam remains and where most anti-American attacks have occurred.
Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, speaking to NBC's "Meet the Press," said there was no evidence of central control in the assaults, calling them "highly professional but very small ... five or six people at a time attacking us."
Still, he said, running Saddam to ground would ease the situation.
"The sooner we can either kill him or capture him, the better, because the fact that his fate is unknown certainly gives his supporters the chance to go around and try to rally support for him," said Bremer.
In other violence Sunday, a two-car convoy carrying members of the International Organization for Migration was ambushed near Hilla when a pickup truck drove alongside one car and opened fire.
The car collided with a bus. Personnel in a World Health Organization convoy traveling behind the IOM vehicles treated three injured. The Iraqi driver died, said Omer Mekki, the WHO deputy director in Iraq.
Both convoys were clearly marked as U.N. vehicles.
"We're a bit shaken. Everybody is a bit shocked," said Mekki. "But when we were recruited and we came to Iraq, we knew there were risks. An incident like this is not unexpected.
Ahmed Fawzi, spokesman for the special representative of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, denounced the attack.
"The United Nations is in Iraq to help the Iraqi people. We are not taking sides," he said in Baghdad.
U.N. special representative Sergio Vieira de Mello left Iraq on Sunday. He is to report to the U.N. Security council on Tuesday, when a delegation from Iraq's U.S.-picked Governing Council was expected to visit the world body.
The council, the first civilian group organized to eventually take control of the country, had said the group planned to declare itself the sovereign representative of Iraq at the United Nations.
The council will be able to pick minister for a new administration and hold other powers, but ultimate say will remain with U.S. administrators. The Pentagon's No. 2 official cautioned Iraqis in the northern city of Mosul on Monday not to expect the United States to solve their economic plight in the aftermath of Saddam's fall.
"Even though we can do many things, we're not gods," Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, told members of the city council. It was a message Wolfowitz repeated throughout a five-day tour of Iraq, which included stops in the cities of Karbala, Hilla, Najaf, Basra and Baghdad.
To the south, in the holy city of Najaf, thousands of followers of Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr marched from the Imam Ali shrine to U.S. headquarters in the region, shouting slogans against the Governing Council and the Americans.
"Long live al-Sadr. America and the Council are infidels," chanted the crowds.
U.S. troops barricaded the building with Humvees. The crowd, some throwing rocks, left after clerics read out an appeal by al-Sadr to go home.
Earlier, al-Sadr said in a statement read inside the shrine that he wanted coalition forces to leave Najaf. In his Friday sermon, the cleric said he was recruiting a private army but fell short of calling for armed struggle against the U.S. occupation.
On Monday, the coalition director for human rights said the investigation of a newly uncovered mass grave outside Mosul had been delayed until more forensic teams arrive in the next few weeks.
The 101st Airborne discovered the site near the village of al-Hatra last week and several remains were taken away by forensic experts. The site was covered up until assessment teams could excavate it properly, said Sandy Hodgkinson.
"We don't have all the facts yet," she said. But initial discussions revealed that the grave held the remains of women and children all with bullet holes in their heads.
Residents said there were 4,000-5,000 bodies in that region, Hodgkinson said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)