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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- An American soldier died when guerrillas shelled a military base in the northern city of Mosul on Friday, a day after President Bush's surprise visit to U.S. troops at a heavily fortified military compound at Baghdad's main airport.
Iraqis expressed differing opinions about the significance of the brief visit, which was organized in such secrecy that even members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council invited to attend Thanksgiving celebrations at the airport were not told about it.
"We cannot consider Bush's arrival at Baghdad International Airport yesterday as a visit to Iraq," said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. "He did not meet with ordinary Iraqis. Bush was only trying to boost the morale of his troops."
Bush's 2 1/2-hour visit came just ahead of Friday's arrival in Baghdad of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
The former first lady and Reed, both Democrats, have been critical of the Bush administration's handling of postwar operations in both countries.
In Baghdad, an explosion slightly damaged a highway overpass, and the military said that two U.S. soldiers died in separate incidents in central and northern Iraq.
One soldier died on Thanksgiving from a gunshot wound inside the heavily fortified base in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. It was not immediately clear how the shooting occurred, a military statement said.
Another soldier died Friday when four mortar shells slammed a 101st Airborne Division base in Mosul. Attacks by Iraqi insurgents on U.S. troops in Mosul have increased in recent weeks.
The military said it had captured one of Saddam Hussein's bodyguards, identified as Brig. Gen. Khalid Arak Hatimy. The statement claimed Hatimy had been inciting the uprising west of Baghdad and providing money and weapons to the guerrillas.
More than 60 U.S. troops were killed in hostile action in November, more than any other month since the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.
Since operations began, nearly 300 U.S. service members have died from hostile action. Another 136 have died from accidents and other causes. A total of 75 soldiers from allied nations also have died, bringing total coalition deaths to more than 500. Several civilians working for the U.S. military have also been killed.
In Baghdad, hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated against terrorism and condemned Saddam Hussein at a rally on a downtown square. The protest occurred in Firdos Square, where a large bronze statue of Saddam was toppled by Iraqis and U.S. Marines on April 9 after the fall of Baghdad in the U.S.-led invasion.
"Yes to Iraq," protesters shouted. "No to terrorism."
The demonstration was organized by a handful of Iraqi political parties, none of which are members of the U.S.-appointed governing council.
Bush, who flew into Baghdad Thursday evening to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with U.S. troops, also reserved a word for Iraqis.
"You have an opportunity to seize the moment and rebuild your great country, based on human dignity and freedom," Bush said. "We will stay until the job is done."
Bush also met with four members of the 25-seat Iraqi Governing Council.
Mouwafik al-Rubei'e, one of those attending, said they were simply invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Iraq's American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, and had no forewarning that they would meet Bush.
"It was a fruitful meeting," al-Rubei'e said. "The U.S. president reaffirmed his country's commitment to build a new, democratic and prosperous Iraq."
Ordinary Iraqis said it was difficult to judge the importance of the event.
"It meant little to the Iraqi people. Some are welcoming it, but most are dismissing its importance," said Kamal Mehdi, a cashier in Baghdad.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)