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Two U.S. Soldiers Killed in Ambush

Two U.S. Soldiers Killed in Ambush

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in an ambush in the same Baghdad neighborhood where, hours earlier, a suicide car bomb killed 10 people, including the driver, the U.S. military said Friday.

Shiite Muslims denied there was an ambush and said fighters loyal to a radical Shiite cleric battled U.S. troops Thursday night as the Americans approached their leader's headquarters. Up to two Iraqis died in the fighting and seven were wounded, according to various Iraqi reports.

Witnesses said seven U.S. tanks backed by three helicopters returned to the area early Friday, but left an hour later without incident.

The U.S. military said troops from the 1st Armored Division were on patrol in Sadr City, the largest Shiite Muslim enclave in Baghdad, when they were ambushed about 8 p.m. Thursday.

"A group of people, civilians, met with U.S. forces and said, `Please come in, we need to show you something important,"' Army spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo said.

When the soldiers left their vehicles, they were attacked with guns, rocket-propelled grenades and makeshift explosives, he said. The patrol then was rescued by an Army quick reaction force.

Krivo suggested the encounter last two hours but would not elaborate.

Sheik Abdel-Hadi al-Daraji -- an aide to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- blamed the clash on the Americans, saying they shot first.

Outside al-Sadr's office, about 10,000 Shiites gathered for Friday prayers and mourners placed two coffins of Iraqis they said died in the clash with the Americans. Many worshippers carried portraits of al-Sadr and his father, a top religious leader killed in 1999 by suspected agents of Saddam Hussein.

Krivo said the U.S. military would continue patrolling the Shiite slum.

The violence in Iraq on Friday was not confined to the capital.

An American patrol came under small-arms fire near Beiji, about 120 miles north Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The U.S. troops returned fire, critically wounding three attackers while four escaped, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division.

U.S. troops also detained 26 people and confiscated automatic weapons, a mortar, and other weapons in raids around Tikrit.

As he has in the past, L. Paul Bremer, the top American official in Iraq, blamed the continuing violence on "organized extremists" and the 100,000 criminals released by Saddam from the country's prison's before the U.S.-led invasion.

"Look at how far we've come, much further than anyone would have expected," Bremer told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday. "We're back at prewar levels in power, we're back at prewar levels in water, the schools are open, the hospitals are open, and we're really making tremendous progress here."

In Sadr city, al-Daraji denounced the American forces occupying his country.

"America claims to be the pioneer of freedom and democracy, but it resembles or indeed is a terror organization," al-Daraji told the congregation, which chanted, "No to America and yes to martyrdom," as the coffins arrived. "The Americans may have forgotten that the real power rests with God and not with the wretched America."

He accused the Americans of trying to drive a wedge between Iraq's majority Shiites and minority Sunnis and claimed the U.S.-led coalition was responsible for "manufacturing crises and trying to create havoc." But he stopped short of calling on Shiites to take up arms against the Americans, instead insisting, "We want peace."

Al-Daraji, like others in the outdoor congregation, wore a white coffin shroud, a custom among pious Shiites to signal their readiness for martyrdom.

Sadr City, teeming with thousands of young, unemployed Shiites, is al-Sadr's main power base. Before the prayers, his gunmen sealed off streets leading to his office, and hundreds of armed followers patrolled the area.

Emotions among the Shiites here were running high in wake of the Thursday violence.

"We want peace but the Americans came last night thinking this is Fallujah," said Mahdi Abdel-Zahra, 32, referring to a city west of Baghdad where frequent clashes between Iraqis and Americans have taken place. "They are wrong. We've never hurt the Americans in Sadr City."

The trouble in Sadr City started Thursday when a bomber crashed a white Oldsmobile loaded with explosives into a police station, killing himself and nine other people and wounding as many as 45. Across town, gunmen -- one dressed as a Muslim cleric -- also shot and killed a Spanish military attache.

There was no claim of responsibility.

"It was a huge blast and everything became dark from the debris and sand. I was thrown to the ground," said Mohammed Adnan, who sells watermelons opposite the police station.

The killing of the Spanish military attache happened across town in the upscale Mansour area about 30 minutes before the car bombing.

Jose Antonio Bernal Gomez, an air force sergeant attached to Spain's National Intelligence Center, was shot to death after four men, one dressed as a Muslim cleric, knocked on the door of his home, a Spanish diplomat in Baghdad said on condition of anonymity.

The violence came six months to the day after Baghdad fell to American forces. Since then, its deliverance from Saddam's tyranny has been repeatedly undermined by terrorism, attacks on U.S. forces and sectarian unrest.

The ancient city's landscape is now lined with massive concrete blast barriers and coils of barbed wire outside hotels, government departments and along stretches of road near U.S. military bases.

In other developments Thursday:

-- U.S. troops arrested an Iraqi resistance leader believed to be responsible for scores of deadly attacks against American forces around Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. They also uncovered a factory where deadly roadside bombs were being built.

-- A 4th Infantry Division soldier was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a U.S. convoy northeast of Baghdad, the military said.

-- U.S. soldiers conducted a raid Sunday near the Syrian border and detained 112 suspects, including a high-ranking official in the former Republican Guard, the military said.

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

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