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U.S. Soldiers Under Fire in Iraq

U.S. Soldiers Under Fire in Iraq

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. soldiers came under fire Thursday near the Fallujah mayor's office and killed one of their attackers, an American officer said, while a witness said a U.S. convoy was attacked southeast of the volatile city.

The violence came a day after three American soldiers were killed in separate attacks as the U.S.-led coalition faced an increasingly sophisticated resistance movement.

Also Thursday, U.S. officials announced that a suspected former top Baath Party official who was in northern Iraq has been arrested.

None of the Americans was hurt in the attack by three gunmen in Fallujah, a major city in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," but two girls were injured in the crossfire, Lt. Col. Brian Drinkwine said. Their condition was not known.

"While we were conducting a meeting in the city council building (mayor's office), we were fired upon. We returned fire and killed one enemy," Drinkwine said.

Shortly before the attack, a fuel tanker in a U.S. convoy near Amiriyah, southeast of Fallujah, was hit by a mine or roadside bomb, according to Mohammed Hamid, 31, who lives nearby. He said a soldier in the passenger seat of the cab pulling the tanker was killed and the driver was wounded. The military had no information on that attack.

The fuel tanker was still burning two hours later.

Witness accounts of the attack in Fallujah were at odds with that of the military, with some claiming the gunmen fired from a passing car on a U.S. foot patrol. Others said a single gunman attacked from the street.

At Fallujah General Hospital, commander of the Fallujah Protection Force Ali Jassim also said the dead man was not one of the attackers but an innocent bystander. He said policeman Mohammed Muafaq, 27, was shot in the hip.

Walid al-Jumaly, 38, a tire shop owner, said more than 10 soldiers were walking across the wide main street in front of the mayor's office and an adjacent U.S. Army post when a man stepped from a sidestreet, shouted "Allahu Akbar (God is Great)" and started firing with an assault rifle.

He said the Americans used tear gas and returned fire. Spent smoke canisters were seen on the pavement near the mayor's office.

After the attack, residents of the Euphrates River city told American reporters they were happy the soldiers came under attack and called the attacker a freedom fighter.

Three U.S. Humvees were patrolling the main street in Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad, and Iraqi police blocked the street at both ends of the town.

A bomb was found at the mayor's office last week and defused. U.S. troops routinely are in the office to coordinate with Iraqis who are carrying out reconstruction projects in the region.

Fallujah, a wedge of land west and north of Baghdad, has been the scene of repeated attacks by resistance fighters opposed to the American occupation.

On Wednesday, a soldier from the 1st Armored Division was shot and killed while on patrol in the al-Mansour district of western Baghdad, the U.S. command said. A female soldier from the 4th Infantry Division also died Wednesday when a roadside bomb exploded about 300 yards from the main U.S. base in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown. Two other soldiers were wounded in the blast. U.S. troops in Tikrit fired mortars overnight into empty fields near the base in a show of force.

Another soldier from the 4th Infantry Division died following a rocket-propelled grenade attack on an American convoy Wednesday near Samara, about 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital, according to the military.

The latest casualties -- names were withheld pending notification of relatives -- bring to 90 the number of American soldiers to die by hostile fire in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major combat operations on May 1. A total of 314 American service members have died since the war started on March 20, according to the Department of Defense.

U.S. officials have warned that coalition forces are facing more sophisticated attacks by a determined resistance centered in Sunni Muslim areas to the north and west of Baghdad.

In Tikrit, the military said Thursday that the Baath Party official was arrested overnight near Baqouba. His name was not released, but the military said he was believed to have been helping Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a longtime Saddam confidant and one of the most senior members of the former regime still at large.

Al-Douri, a Revolutionary Command Council vice chairman, is No. 6 on the most-wanted list of 55 regime officials. His daughter was married to Saddam's son, Odai, who was killed with his brother, Qusai, in a U.S.-led attack in July.

Meanwhile, troops of the 4th Infantry Division killed one Iraqi and wounded another after assailants fired rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire at a U.S. patrol near Balad, division spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said.

American soldiers also fired warning shots over the heads of stone-throwing Shiite Muslims protesting the brief detention of their preacher on Wednesday outside the Ali Kazem al-Bayai mosque in southwestern Baghdad.

The Shiites, who said the cleric was questioned about allegedly inflammatory sermons, warned they would turn against the U.S. occupation if they did not receive a written apology from the Americans and Iraqi police within three days.

As an American patrol drove up to the mosque, protesters began hurling stones at the vehicles. A soldier fired a few warning shots to disperse the pursuing crowd as the patrol drove away. Some members of the mosque security force returned fire but no injuries were reported.

Shiites, the majority of Iraq's 25 million people who were oppressed under Saddam's Sunni regime, have been generally more accepting of the U.S. occupation.

In New York, meanwhile, U.S. diplomats circulated a new draft U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a strengthened U.N. role in rebuilding Iraq. The draft, however, provided no timetable for a handover of authority to Iraqis, according to a copy of the document obtained by The Associated Press.

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

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