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U.S. Soldier, Two Iraqis Die in Blast

U.S. Soldier, Two Iraqis Die in Blast

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- A bomb exploded near a Baghdad mosque as a U.S. military convoy passed by Friday, killing an American soldier and two Iraqis, the military and hospital workers said.

The soldier was traveling in a three-vehicle convoy when a roadside bomb exploded nearby, the military said in a statement. A spokesman had initially denied reports of U.S. casualties.

Most of the civilian casualties were passengers on a bus that was badly damaged in the blast near the al-Samarrai mosque in the New Baghdad section of the capital.

Karim Abdullah Muslim, the head of emergency services at the nearby al-Kindi hospital, said a man and a woman died and 13 people were injured.

Haitham Rashid, a passenger on the bus, said about two dozen people were aboard the vehicle at the time of the blast.

Haidar Aziz Kazim, an 11-year-old schoolboy, said he had been shopping with his mother and aunt at the time.

"I blame Saddam Hussein for what happened," said Kazim, who was in the hospital with wounds to his legs. "They are hurting ordinary Iraqis, not the Americans."

Meanwhile, U.S. troops cordoned off part of the main highway after a fire destroyed an armored personnel carrier in Mishada, 20 miles north of the capital.

Capt. Brian Ridley said the fire was caused by a faulty heater, which caused ammunition inside the vehicle to explode. No casualties were reported, he said.

Separately, about 500 people rallied Friday in central Baghdad to call for an end to terrorist attacks against civilians. Participants carried banners reading "No to terrorism" and expressed support for the U.S.-led coalition that has governed Iraq since ousting Saddam Hussein in early April.

In a Friday sermon in the town of Kufa south of Baghdad, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to call a general strike in the holy city of Najaf if U.S. occupation forces do not set free members of his militia group by the start of the next Arabic month, which falls in about 20 days.

Al-Sadr did not say how many militiamen of the group -- known as Imam al-Mahdi's Army -- were in detention.

His call came two days after Amar Yassiri, whom the U.S. military has described as a senior al-Sadr aide in Baghdad, was detained by U.S. troops in Baghdad in connection with an Oct. 12 ambush in which two soldiers died.

The violence occurred a day after Secretary of State Colin Powell asked NATO to take a larger role in Iraq.

On Thursday, guerrillas injured six people in a rocket attack on a police station and detonated a roadside bomb that destroyed a U.S. Army supply vehicle. The American troops in the vehicle escaped injury.

Powell said Thursday during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, that "not a single member" of the Atlantic alliance spoke out against taking on more responsibilities in Iraq.

For now, NATO's involvement is limited to offering logistical support to the Polish-led division in southern Iraq, although 18 of the 26 current and soon-to-be NATO members have individually sent 24,000 troops to the country.

Powell said the alliance could do more to help return sovereignty to Iraqis.

"We urge the alliance to examine how it might do more to support peace and stability in Iraq, which every leader has acknowledged is critical to all of us," Powell said.

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

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