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U.S. Soldier Killed in Ambush

U.S. Soldier Killed in Ambush

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Guerrillas ambushed a U.S. military patrol with small arms fire, killing one soldier, the military said Thursday, and suspected Saddam Hussein loyalists killed a representative of a major Shiite political party.

In Tokyo on Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi approved a plan to send 1,000 troops on a humanitarian mission to southern Iraq, the defense chief said. The schedule of the deployment was not released.

It will be Japan's first troop dispatch to a combat zone since World War II.

The U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday night when the 1st Armored Division patrol came under fire in al-Karmah, in northwest Baghdad, the military said. Another American was injured, as was an Iraqi interpreter.

The soldier's death brings the number of U.S. soldiers killed in combat to 314 since the war started on March 20, including 199 since President Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1. Some 144 soldiers have died of non-hostile causes, according to the Pentagon.

It was the first fatal ambush of a U.S. soldier since Saddam's capture on Saturday.

North of the capital, U.S. forces encircled the town of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, as part of a major raid on the area. Troops smashed down the gates of homes and the doors of workshops and junkyards there Wednesday in an effort to quash the violence that has persisted since Saddam was captured.

In Baghdad, suspected followers of Saddam shot to death Muhannad al-Hakim, a representative of a major Shiite party and a member of a prominent political family, a party official said Thursday.

Al-Hakim, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was killed Wednesday while leaving his home, party official Latif al-Rubaie said.

Al-Hakim, in his mid-30s, was head of security at the Education Ministry and was a cousin of Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

A funeral was held Thursday.

In August, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, a top Shiite cleric and founder of the Supreme Council party, was killed in a car bombing in the southern city of Najaf that left at least 85 people dead. He was a brother of Abdel-Aziz Al-Hakim.

Several attacks on U.S. forces and Iraqi police in recent days have claimed more than a dozen lives in Baghdad and in predominantly Sunni areas west and north of the capital, once Saddam's power base.

U.S. officials say some 1,500 insurgents operate in Samarra, a hotbed of violence in the so-called Sunni Triangle.

"Samarra has been a little bit of a thorn in our side," said Lt. Col. Nate Sassaman. "It hasn't come along as quickly as other cities in the rebuilding of Iraq. This operation is designed to bring them up to speed."

In the northern city of Mosul, assailants shot and killed a policeman Wednesday, police said. Iraqi security forces there also opened fire on pro-Saddam protesters, wounding nine, witnesses said.

In Baghdad, a fuel truck exploded after colliding with a bus at an intersection, killing 10 Iraqis and wounding 20 -- raising initial claims by Iraqi officials that it was a suicide bombing by Saddam loyalists. But U.S. officials later said the blast was an accident, not an attack.

In the Samarra raid by some 2,500 troops, dubbed Operation Ivy Blizzard, the 4th Infantry Division and Iraqi forces detained at least a dozen suspected guerrillas. Others got away, apparently tipped off about the raid.

The sweep came after U.S. troops on Tuesday snared a suspected rebel leader and 78 other people, all in one building near Samarra where they apparently were planning attacks. On Monday, guerrillas in the city ambushed an American patrol, sparking a battle in which soldiers killed 11 attackers.

With Saddam in custody, the most wanted Iraqi fugitive is Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a high-ranking member of the former regime thought to be organizing anti-U.S. attacks. But it was unclear whether U.S. officials think al-Douri is near Samarra.

Saddam is being held and interrogated in the Baghdad area, according to Mouwafak al-Rubaie, a member of the governing council.

The council has established a war crimes tribunal and hopes to put Saddam on trial for human rights abuses. The United Nations, the Vatican and many countries oppose a trial before any court that could sentence him to death -- and others have expressed worries Iraq's justice system cannot try him fairly.

Council member Adnan Pachachi said "all stages of the trial will be public." He added that international experts "are always welcome" because the tribunal allows for the appointment of foreign judges.

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

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