- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2003

BAGHDAD — A U.S. soldier was killed and four companions wounded yesterday in an attack near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, north of the capital, a military statement said.

It was at least the seventh U.S. soldier killed in attacks in Iraq during the past two weeks as unrest plagues the country.

As tension increased about the role of religious leaders in postwar Iraq, U.S. forces yesterday raided a Baghdad office of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an armed Muslim Shi’ite group with ties to Iran.

U.N. were expected today to continue their first inspection of Iraq’s largest nuclear plant after expressing fears that thousands were poisoned when the site was looted in after the war.

The visit to the Tuwaitha nuclear plant was closely watched by U.S. officials — as was the mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which aims to determine how much damage was done to the plant during the war and what went missing after the war.

For three hours yesterday under a blazing afternoon sun, the U.N. team, accompanied by U.S. weapons hunters, toured the grounds and looked into rooms where tons of uranium and radioactive sources had been stored for more than a decade.

Tuwaitha, Iraq’s largest nuclear facility and now defunct, was left unguarded for two weeks after Iraqi troops fled the area on the eve of the war.

U.S. troops didn’t secure the area until April 7. In the meantime, looters from the surrounding villages stripped it of uranium-storage barrels they later used to hold drinking water.

A U.S. weapons team created to dismantle and eliminate any nuclear weapons found in Iraq has conducted its assessment of the site.

Col. Mickey Freeland, who leads that team, declined to say how much uranium they believe is missing. “I’m not going to state what we did or didn’t find,” he told the Associated Press. Another American, Col. Tim Madere, said 20 percent of Tuwaitha’s uranium is unaccounted for.

In Tikrit gunmen opened fire on American troops using small arms and a rocket-propelled grenade, according to a brief statement released by U.S. Central Command.

The injured troops were evacuated by helicopter and ambulance to medical facilities in the area, the statement said. The names of the soldiers and their unit were withheld to allow notification of relatives.

It was the latest in a series of fatal attacks on U.S. forces in Sunni Muslim areas in central Iraq, which the military blames on Ba’athist remnants of Saddam’s ousted government.

Tikrit is located about 120 miles north of Baghdad.

In the south, 2,000 Shi’ite Muslims marched in Basra yesterday to demand the withdrawal of British occupation forces from Iraq’s main southern city.

“Leave peacefully lest we expel you through our jihad,” or holy war, they chanted in front of the headquarters of the British military command controlling southern Iraq, an Agence France-Presse reporter said.

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