- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

BAGHDAD — Assailants detonated a roadside bomb near a U.S. military convoy in the Iraqi capital yesterday, killing two American soldiers and an Iraqi translator.

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, meanwhile, said that American troops, helped by intelligence gleaned from Saddam Hussein’s capture, were closing in on rebel leaders.

L. Paul Bremer, the administrator, also told NBC that “there’s been a suggestion of high terror threats” in Iraq in recent weeks unrelated to Saddam’s Dec. 13 capture.

Two soldiers from the 1st Armored Division were wounded in the attack, at about 11:45 a.m., in Baghdad. Their names were being withheld until their families could be notified.

A total of 317 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile action since the war began March 19.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin told members of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council that Russia was ready to write off more than half of the $8 billion that Baghdad owes Moscow, its largest creditor.

At a Kremlin meeting, Mr. Putin told the delegation — led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the council — that Russia was ready to write off 65 percent of the debt, said Samir Shaker Mahmoud, a council member.

The debt is part of the approximately $41 billion owed by Iraq to the so-called Paris Club group of creditor nations. Iraq’s overall debt is about $120 billion.

Also yesterday, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski made a brief and unannounced visit to Polish troops based at Babylon, south of Baghdad.

Polish television showed Mr. Kwasniewski posing for photographs with soldiers in front of a Christmas display and joining them in singing carols.

But his visit was marred by the death of a Polish soldier, whose weapon went off accidently as he was cleaning it, said the Defense Ministry in Warsaw.

Poland was a strong supporter of the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam and was selected to lead a 9,500-strong multinational peacekeeping force in a south-central region of the country. It has contributed 2,400 troops.

U.S. troops late Sunday captured a former general in Saddam’s once-feared security services, Mumtaz al-Taji, suspected of recruiting ex-soldiers to attack Americans.

He was detained at a house in Baqouba, about 30 miles north of Baghdad.

In recent days, American troops have conducted large-scale raids in Fallujah, west of Baghdad; Samarra, 75 miles north of Baghdad; Jalulah, northwest of the capital; and Rawah, near the western border with Syria. At least three Iraqis have died in the raids.

In the northern city of Mosul, the Army’s 101st Airborne Division opened a new downtown police headquarters, seven months after the previous one was looted during the collapse of Saddam’s regime.

There are 4,200 Iraqi police in Mosul, where insurgents have targeted officers accused of collaborating with the U.S.-led authority.

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