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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- An American soldier died in a rebel ambush and two others were killed in bomb explosions Friday, one of the bloodiest days for the U.S. military since the Dec. 13 capture of Saddam Hussein.
Two of the deaths occurred in Baqouba, a center of guerrilla activity northeast of Baghdad in a Sunni Muslim area that served as a power base for Saddam, the former Iraqi dictator. U.S. forces, who have a base in the town, often conduct raids and arrest suspected insurgents.
One of the U.S. soldiers killed Friday was in a U.S. convoy that came under attack, said Capt. Jefferson Wolfe of the Army's 4th Infantry Division. Another soldier was injured, but troops fired back, killing two attackers, he said.
In a separate incident in the same area, a soldier tried to defuse a homemade bomb, but it blew up and killed him, Wolfe said. Such bombs are a favored weapon of rebels, who leave them on roadsides and detonate them as military convoys pass.
The guerrillas used that tactic Friday in Balad, north of Baghdad, setting off a bomb that killed one soldier, the U.S. military said.
In the capital, a car exploded on the road to the airport, killing its two occupants. U.S. soldiers at the scene said they suspected the two men were bombers whose bomb exploded prematurely.
Further north, three soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division were wounded in an ambush in Mosul when their convoy came under small arms fire, said Maj. Trey Cate, the division spokesman.
The soldiers, who were searching the city's streets for bombs, returned fire but did not catch their attackers, Cate said. Witnesses claimed a taxi driver was killed in the firefight, but the spokesman could not confirm the report.
On Thursday, Iraqi insurgents shelled an American base in Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, killing two U.S. soldiers, the military said.
Four other soldiers were wounded in the attack, Maj. Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division said.
A total of 11 U.S. soldiers have died from hostile action since Monday.
Two soldiers from Poland, which has about 2,400 troops in Iraq, were wounded Thursday when assailants struck their convoy with a remote-controlled mine, Col. Zdzislaw Gnatowski told the Polish news agency PAP.
Also on Christmas Day, rocket and mortar attacks hit a hotel housing foreigners and targeted two banks, the Iranian and Turkish embassies and a U.S. Army base. The strikes had more symbolic than military impact; two civilians -- a woman and her daughter sleeping in an apartment -- were hurt, and damage was limited.
Late Thursday, several more explosions were heard in central Baghdad, and sirens sounded in the Green Zone, a barricaded area that houses the headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition governing Iraq. A U.S. military spokesman said two rockets hit a car park near the headquarters, but there were no casualties.
Troops in an aircraft located the launch point and soldiers on the ground captured five men suspected of firing those rockets, Capt. Jason Beck said Friday.
U.S. forces had increased security in the capital following threats of attacks over Christmas, but the strikes showed how easily small bands of rebels operate under cover of night in the city center, and then slip away.
At the same time, the furtive, hit-and-run operations inflicted far less damage than attacks by suicide bombers in recent months that killed dozens of people at embassies, police stations and the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad.
Such targets are now more heavily defended. There are also fewer "soft" targets, with the United Nations withdrawing foreign staffers and many aid workers departing because of security concerns.
The 19-story Ishtar Sheraton Hotel was hit on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, the first time by a mortar shell, and then by a rocket-propelled grenade.
One grenade, apparently intended for the Sheraton, crashed through a bedroom wall in an apartment building across the street, detonating and inflicting shrapnel wounds on a woman and her 20-year-old daughter.
U.S. soldiers investigating the area found leaflets warning Iraqis to stay home, said Lt. Kurt Muniz of the U.S. Army. The leaflets warned U.S. forces to leave the country and Iraqi police to stop working with foreign occupiers.
The latest military deaths bring the toll to 323 U.S. troops killed in hostile action since the invasion in March.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)