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Two Die as U.S. Abrams Tank Blows Up

Two Die as U.S. Abrams Tank Blows Up

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Two American soldiers were killed when their Abrams battle tank was damaged by resistance fighters, U.S. officials said Wednesday, as the number of U.S. soldiers killed in combat since major fighting ended topped the wartime total.

In a separate attack, seven Ukrainian troops were wounded in the first ambush of a multinational unit in the Polish sector south of Baghdad, coalition officials said.

The latest deaths bring to 115 the number of American soldiers killed in combat in Iraq since President Bush declared an end to major fighting May 1. Defense Department figures -- updated on its Web site Tuesday -- show 114 U.S. soldiers died in the active combat phase, which began March 20.

The Abrams tank was disabled when it was struck by a land mine or a roadside bomb Tuesday night during a patrol near Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division. A third crewman was evacuated to a U.S. hospital in Germany, she said.

It was believed to be the first M1 Abrams main battle tank destroyed since the end of major combat May 1. During the active combat phase, several of the 68-ton vehicles -- the mainstay of the U.S. Army's armored forces -- were disabled in combat.

The latest attacks, including a nighttime mortar barrage in Baghdad, followed a day of violence in which insurgents targeted American forces and Iraqis who work with the occupation authorities. U.S. officials also announced that Baghdad's Deputy Mayor Faris Abdul Razzaq al-Assam was killed Sunday in a drive-by shooting.

On Wednesday, a former Baath Party member was shot dead as he headed for the education department, witnesses and officials said.

Mohammed Shlash had been reinstated as a teacher despite his former membership in Saddam Hussein's party. As he arrived at the department, he was shot in the head by two assailants who escaped, witnesses said. Residents speculated Islamic extremist groups opposed to the Baath Party may have been responsible for the killing.

Baghdad police commander Maj. Gen. Hassan al-Obeid on Wednesday announced, new measures, including additional 24-hour checkpoints and special patrols, to heighten security in the capital, according to coalition-run Iraqi television.

The proliferation of attacks on Iraqis allied with the occupation bodes ill for attempts by the U.S.-led authorities to persuade more Iraqis to join in administering the country and play a greater role in providing security. Resistance forces have targeted several prominent figures, including Aquila al-Hashimi, a member of the Governing Council, who was fatally shot Sept. 20.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair condemned as "brutal and wicked" a wave of attacks that killed dozens of people this week.

"These attacks are the work of evil people who do not wish to see a stable and prosperous Iraq," Blair told the House of Commons on Wednesday. "We shall continue to do everything we can to thwart them and reconstruct the country."

A spokesman for the multinational division at Camp Babylon said the attack on the Ukrainians occurred when two of their armored personnel carriers rolled over land mines near Suwayrah about 40 miles southeast of Baghdad.

After the vehicles were disabled, unidentified gunmen opened fire on the disembarked soldiers, the spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

About 1,650 Ukrainians are serving in the Polish-led stabilization force patrolling central and southern Iraq.

In Baghdad, half a dozen mortar rounds exploded late Tuesday in an upscale Jadriya neighborhood across the Tigris River from the U.S.-led coalition headquarters but caused no damage or casualties, the U.S. military said Wednesday.

One landed in a field close to a palace once occupied by one of Saddam Hussein's daughters, now a headquarters for the U.S. civil-military affairs command. Another struck Baghdad University's College of Physical Education, damaging the wall of an enclosed volleyball court. There were no casualties in the shelling.

In Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, insurgents fired late Tuesday on the south gate at the main U.S. military base there. At least one American soldier from the 4th Infantry Division was wounded, witnesses said. A patrol was sent out to search for the assailants, who fled after firing on the troops from a nearby rooftop.

And a U.S. military convoy was attacked Tuesday night by small arms fire in the northern city of Mosul, the military said. There were no casualties.

Rockets were fired Tuesday night at a U.S. military compound in the oil center of Kirkuk, according to Saleh Sabah, a member of the Iraqi National Accord which has offices near the compound.

Sabah said the U.S. troops returned fire with mortars and blocked all roads leading to their garrison.

In Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, witnesses said an explosive device intended for U.S. troops detonated Wednesday as a civilian car was passing by, seriously injuring the driver.

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

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