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Iraqi Insurgents Attack Coalition Convoy

Iraqi Insurgents Attack Coalition Convoy

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Insurgents attacked a U.S. military patrol west of Baghdad early Wednesday and an ensuing fight left three civilians dead and two U.S. soldiers injured, the U.S. military and Iraqi hospital officials said.

The fighting came a day after assailants shot at a van carrying police recruits south of Baghdad, killing nine, while gunmen killed two policemen in the north. The slayings Tuesday were the latest to target police and other Iraqis who work with the U.S.-led occupation.

In a speech in central Baghdad, meanwhhile, top U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said Iraq is "on the path to full democracy" and has made significant economic progress since Saddam Hussein was toppled nearly a year ago.

Associated Press Television News footage of the aftermath of the fighting in the town of Fallujah, 32 miles west of Baghdad, showed two civilian cars burned, bloodstains on the ground and bullet holes in walls, as well as two wounded Iraqis being taken into a hospital.

"American troops came under attack while they were patrolling in the main street," Fallujah resident Ahmed Ali said.

The U.S. military said two "coalition personnel" were injured. The pair were flown from Fallujah to a combat hospital after attackers detonated a roadside bomb and raked their vehicle with gunfire, a U.S. official said.

Muthana al-Jumeili, a doctor at Fallujah General Hospital, said three civilians died and three others were wounded. Fallujah is a hotbed of insurgent activity.

On the eastern outskirts of Baghdad, three civilians -- a 3-year-old boy, his grandmother and a male relative -- were killed when an explosion destroyed the car they were riding in, according to relatives. Six other people were injured in the blast, which relatives said was caused by a mine in the road.

Also before dawn Wednesday, attackers fired a rocket that struck the Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad, where foreign contractors and journalists stay. The rocket hit a sixth-floor ledge and the explosion left the lobby strewn with glass.

U.S. officials said there were no casualties. American soldiers protect the Sheraton, which is ringed by a concrete blast wall to ward off bombing attempts.

Another rocket was fired into the headquarters of the coalition in Baghdad early Wednesday, wounding a contractor, a senior U.S. official said without elaborating.

Tuesday's roadside attack on police recruits in the south took place between Musayeb and Hillah when a car pulled in front of the minibus and assailants sprayed it with small arms fire, police in Hillah said.

A U.S. military official confirmed that nine people died and two were wounded. Iraqi police said one wounded trainee survived.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, gunmen in a car killed two policemen and wounded two others, police Capt. Abdul-Salam Zangana said.

Iraq's main oil pipeline leading to the Gulf ruptured late Tuesday, spilling large amounts of oil that later caught fire, officials said. Abed Ali Fhadil, the mayor of the southern town Faw, near where the spillage occurred, said the break was believed to be due to poor maintenance. Rebels have repeatedly attacked oil pipelines in Iraq.

In Ramadi, west of Baghdad, Iraqi police fired shots to disperse a violent protest against Israel's assassination of Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City.

Iraqi police fired in the air after protesters burned two police cars and two hand grenades were thrown at the governor's office, witnesses said. Television footage showed U.S. soldiers remaining behind at the building, protected by concrete blast barriers, as police with assault rifles moved down the street to disperse the crowd. At least two police and three protesters were wounded.

Muslim clerics in Ramadi, where support for the anti-U.S. insurgency is strong, had urged followers to protest the slaying of Yassin, the spiritual leader of the Palestinian militant group.

In the northern city of Mosul, insurgents fired mortar rounds at a barracks housing soldiers of the U.S.-trained Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, killing two civilians and injuring six, the U.S. military said.

In his speech to Iraqi leaders and other delegates in Baghdad's Green Zone, the heavily protected area housing the coalition headquarters, Bremer listed accomplishments achieved since Saddam's fall.

He said 200,000 Iraqis are serving in security positions across the country; Iraqi has more electricity than it did before the war; more than 2,500 schools have been "rehabilitated;" and more than 3 million Iraqi children under age 5 had been vaccinated against polio and other diseases.

"The economy is picking up steam," he said. "Unemployment is half what it was at liberation and possibly even lower."

Bremer also cited the signing of an interim constitution as a key step toward the June 30 handover of power from the coalition to Iraqis.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for a member of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council said the council will investigate alleged corruption in the U.N. oil-for-food program.

Entifadh Qanbar, spokesman for Ahmad Chalabi, said the council will hire international legal and auditing firms as well as specialized Iraqi firms to conduct the probe.

On Monday, the United Nations said Secretary-General Kofi Annan would give the Security Council details about a planned independent commission to investigate claims of corruption in the program.

Diplomats, officials and companies from around the world allegedly collected millions of dollars in illegal profits from the program, which allowed Iraq to sell some of its oil to pay for food during the years of economic sanctions. The program ended in November.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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