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U.S. Troops Battle Resistance Fighters

U.S. Troops Battle Resistance Fighters

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KHALDIYAH, Iraq (AP) -- In dangerous Euphrates River towns west of Baghdad, one soldier was killed Monday and three were wounded in separate roadside bombings. One of the blasts prompted a firefight backed by attack aircraft, tanks and helicopters as U.S. soldiers battled Iraqi resistance fighters for more than eight hours, U.S. officials said.

The American military also announced the arrest of 92 people in a series of raids aimed at those responsible for attacks against Americans north of the capital. One of the raids included the largest joint operation between U.S. military police and about 200 American-trained Iraqi police.

The two bombings hit U.S. military convoys in the adjacent towns of Habaniyah and Khaldiyah at about the same time. The bombing in Khaldiyah prompted the big firefight in which two soldiers and one civilian were injured, according to Lt. Col. Jeff Swisher of the 1st Infantry Division.

The Khaldiyah fighting began at 9 a.m. when an American patrol was hit by roadside bombs, then insurgents opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, Swisher said. The patrol returned fire and support was called in," he said.

Americans began withdrawing at about 5:30 p.m. from the al-Qurtan neighborhood on the north side of Khaldiyah, scene of several previous firefights between the U.S. military and guerrilla fighters. Angry residents cursed at reporters who entered the fire zone after the battle. Swisher said 14 people were detained.

The bombing in Habaniyah took place at about 9:10 a.m as a U.S. convoy passed, killing one soldier and wounding another, said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo in Baghdad.

Habaniyah and Khaldiyah are about 50 miles west of Baghdad.

Six soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded Sunday in nearby Fallujah in another roadside bombing, U.S. officials said.

In another incident, 4th Infantry Division troops late Sunday killed one Iraqi and captured three others in a shootout 9 miles south of Balad, U.S. officials said. In the car, troops found two M-16 rifles that belonged to two American soldiers who were abducted and killed in June, officials said.

In the Khaldiyah firefight, American M1A2 tanks fired 120-mm cannons as helicopters strafed farm houses with 50-mm machine gun fire. Two A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft bombed guerrilla positions while F-15 jets streaked across the sky.

At midafternoon, six U.S. armored personnel carriers -- two of them ambulances -- arrived as reinforcements. As the fight continued, eight Humvees carrying U.S. troops also could be seen heading toward the battle.

A U.S. armored personnel carrier left the area carrying six blindfolded Iraqi prisoners. In the distance, civilians, including women and children, could be seen fleeing on foot. An American recovery vehicle towed away two Humvees, one of which had a bullet hole in the windshield.

An Iraqi man, fleeing on foot with his wife, three other women, a nephew and five children, said at least 10 houses had been destroyed. He refused to give his name.

"Is this the freedom that we were promised?" he asked. "I had to get my family out. ... The helicopters were firing almost nonstop. My 7-year-old is too young to hate but how can he not hate them (the Americans) after this?"

Meanwhile, soldiers of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division launched two dozen raids in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and other areas of northern Iraq, arresting 92 people and seizing weapons and ammunition. One of the raids included the largest joint operation between U.S. military police and about 200 American-trained Iraqi police.

Lt. Col. David Poirier, who commands the 720th Military Police Battalion, based in Fort Hood, Texas, said the operations in Tikrit and other areas that ended Monday morning were designed to "break the back of the Fedayeen."

"The people we went after are the trigger-pullers attacking the coalition," Poirier said.

Of the 92 arrested, four were taken into custody in the joint U.S.-Iraqi raid. But the joint raid failed to locate any major suspects. Some of the Iraqi police vehicles switched on their headlights during the nighttime operation despite U.S. instructions to drive with them off.

Raids in the 4th Division sector have intensified after Iraqi resistance fighters shot and killed three Americans in an ambush two weeks ago just outside Tikrit. In a coordinated series of attacks and ambushes against U.S. forces last week, nine Iraqi fighters were also killed.

"We think all these people and weapons found in the past are linked," Poirier said. "We think they are linked to the organized attacks and are also responsible for the assassination attempts against the Iraqi police as well."

In Baghdad, there was an assassination attempt on Jalaluldin al-Saghir, a member of a study committee for a new Iraqi constitution, said Hamid Moussa, a member of the U.S.-picked Governing Council.

"What is happening is the result of the fragile security situation in which the Iraqis are living. The country lacks order and security," Moussa said. He said it was not clear who was responsible for the attack.

Charles Heatley, spokesman for the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority, said a member of the constitution committee had been caught in crossfire but was not injured. A bodyguard was killed, Heatley said, refusing to give the name of the committee member.

In a village near Kirkuk, 145 miles northeast of Baghdad, U.S. troops were dispatched when 200 people marched on a government building, according to Maj. Gordon Tate of the 4th Infantry Division.

Arab satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera reported U.S. troops fired on the crowd, killing a 10-year-old boy. Tate said U.S. forces did not shoot although someone in the crowd did fire shoots. The Americans said they did not know how the boy was killed.

The ongoing violence has complicated efforts to rebuild this country following the collapse of Saddam's regime in April. Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, more than 80 American soldiers have been killed by hostile fire. That has led to questions about the U.S.-led coalition's stewardship of this country since American and allied forces launched military operations March 20.

In Baghdad, suspected Saddam supporters Monday blew up early a video shop that sold videotapes depicting atrocities committed by the ousted regime. No one was injured in the pre-dawn blast which also damaged four other shops on al-Rasheed street. Shopkeeper Abbas Fadhil, 27, said he had received leaflets warning him to stop selling such tapes "but I paid no attention to them."

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

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