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2 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq Guerrilla Attacks

Four others are wounded in the two separate ambushes, and three die in apparent accidents. Military calls assaults aberrations.

May 27, 2003|John Hendren | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Attacks against the American occupying force in Iraq escalated Monday as two soldiers were killed and four were wounded in two separate ambushes on military convoys in one of the most violent days since the end of the war.

Attackers fired rocket- propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and small arms at an eight-vehicle supply convoy in what military officials described as a planned ambush at 6:15 a.m. near Hadithah, 130 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing one soldier from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and injuring another.

Hours later, one soldier was killed and three wounded when a Humvee near Baghdad's international airport was either hit by, or ran over, a land mine or other type of explosive that had apparently been hurled at it, military officials said.

Three other U.S. soldiers died in separate incidents Monday, with all three fatalities believed to be accidental.

The latest assaults on U.S. troops in central Iraq occurred as the 1st Armored Division arrived to join the 3rd Infantry Division to double patrols in the Iraqi capital and as officials with the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance labored to show progress in improving public safety and increasing acceptance of the American presence by the Iraqi people.

U.S. military officials described the incidents as aberrations that occurred amid a visible increase in American soldiers, who have left their intimidating Bradley fighting vehicles behind to patrol in Humvees and, for the first time, on foot.

"It could be an attempt to disrupt the transition," said Lt. Col. Scott Rutter of the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Brigade, which commands the unit attacked near the airport. "I honestly think order still exists in Baghdad."

Yet support for the attackers was evident among the residents gathered at a military cordon 100 yards away. As teenagers chanted "boom boom" and "bye-bye" to American soldiers near the site of the Humvee attack, residents described the assaults as a guerrilla campaign against the occupation by supporters of the former Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein.

"This is only the beginning," said a middle-aged man near the site of the attack, who refused to give his name. He said two former military officers plotted the attack on the Humvee out of revenge for U.S. policies that disbanded the Iraqi army and purged government posts of senior members of Hussein's Baath Party.

"These people declared holy war against the American people," he said.

Antipathy has intensified since a series of deadly skirmishes in strongholds in central Iraq of the former regime, such as Fallouja.

U.S. soldiers killed two Iraqis in the town last week after a Bradley on patrol was ambushed with a rocket-propelled grenade.

In another development, occupying forces in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit detained a brother-in-law of the deposed leader, Malhana Hamood Abdul Jabar, with $300,000; 8 million Iraqi dinars, worth an additional $6,000; three rifles; and a rocket-propelled grenade, military officials said.

U.S. officials in Baghdad acknowledged lingering concerns over order and a growing hostility toward the American presence, but complained that the coalition's progress has been underappreciated due to unreasonably high expectations for a return to normality just six weeks after the war's end.

Americans and Iraqis alike need to be patient, said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who on Monday led the first congressional delegation to Baghdad since the war ended.

"I was particularly concerned about whether or not Baghdad was the Wild West at this point or whether in fact there was some modicum of control," Hunter said before the second attack. "I think the image that this was downtown Mogadishu is not accurate.

"There are lawless elements," he acknowledged, "but on the other hand I think the order of the day should be patience."

L. Paul Bremer III, the U.S. civil administrator who is running Iraq, outlined on Monday what he described as "magnificent" progress -- including the formation of a "de-Baathification" committee to advise him on how to eliminate the ruling party of the former regime and redistribute its assets.

He and other officials said the removal of sanctions against Iraq by the U.N. Security Council will pave the way to new economic opportunities that are likely to ease public unrest over power and water outages, public safety and the sudden unemployment of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

"I think we are nearing the end of the first phase of our task here and entering what I would say is a new phase," Bremer told reporters in Baghdad before the second attack. "We have established control of the country of Iraq. We've turned water and power on and lowered the prices of food and basic services nationwide."

Bremer also said American overseers have reestablished an Iraqi Central Bank. One of its first deposits will be $250 million from a vault found submerged in the Tigris River on Sunday.

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