- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 27, 2003

BAGHDAD — Four American soldiers were killed in bomb blasts and a mortar attack, authorities said yesterday, bringing the U.S. death toll in Iraq this week to 10, with the violence serving as a reminder that insurgents remain defiant despite the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Rebel gunmen also assassinated a Sunni Muslim tribal leader who backed the coalition near a mosque in the northern town of Mosul. Anti-U.S. guerrillas have targeted Iraqi police and other officials who cooperate with the U.S.-led occupation authorities.

One American GI died yesterday as he tried to defuse a homemade bomb in Baqouba, 30 miles north of Baghdad in an area serving as a power base for Saddam loyalists.

Capt. Jefferson Wolfe of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division said the bomb blew up as the soldier worked on it. Such explosives are a favored weapon of the rebels, who leave them on roadsides and detonate them as military convoys pass.

The guerrillas used that tactic yesterday near Balad, north of Baghdad, setting off a bomb that killed a second soldier, a U.S. military spokeswoman said.

The U.S. military earlier reported that a third soldier had been killed yesterday, but military officials later said the report was wrong and that they had confused the incidents in Baqouba and Balad.

The other two deaths came Thursday, but were first reported yesterday. Two soldiers were killed as Iraqi insurgents shelled a U.S. base near Baqouba and four were wounded, Maj. Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division said yesterday.

Ten U.S. soldiers have died in hostile action since Monday, raising to 322 the number killed since the invasion in March. Officials say it is hard to track the hundreds of Iraqis killed since most are buried within 24 hours in accordance with Islamic law.

Also yesterday, 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 were searching the city’s streets for bombs, Maj. Cate said. The soldiers returned fire, but did not catch their attackers, Maj. Cate said. Witnesses said a taxi driver was killed in the firefight. Maj. Cate could not confirm that death.

Meanwhile, Iraqis continued to show hatred for Saddam, who was captured about two weeks ago, as hundreds stoned a bronze bust of the former dictator in Baghdad’s al-Sadr slum. Previously called Saddam City, it is home to about 2 million of Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Muslim sect, who had been cruelly repressed during Saddam’s regime.

“Iraqis want to show their rejection and contempt of Saddam. … Today, Saddam was tried and punished symbolically,” Sheik Qassim Ahmed said at the scene.

On Thursday, two Polish soldiers were wounded when assailants hit their convoy with a remote-controlled mine, Col. Zdzislaw Gnatowski told the Polish news agency PAP. The Poles command a multinational force of 9,500 soldiers in south-central Iraq that includes about 2,400 Polish troops.

In Baghdad, a car exploded on the road to the airport, killing its two occupants in what was probably a premature explosion in a suicide-bombing attempt, U.S. soldiers at the scene said.

In the Mosul assassination, gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed Sheik Talal al-Khalidi and his 23-year-old son, Saad Talal, said another son, Khalid, who witnessed the attack. A brother of the sheik was injured, and the assailants fled.

Sheik Al-Khalidi, 57, was a member of the loyalist National Assembly under Saddam who joined a new local governing council that works with U.S. troops. He led the Beni Khalid tribe, which also has members in Jordan, Qatar and Syria.

Yesterday’s events came after Christmas Day attacks in Baghdad in which rebels firing rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and rockets struck a hotel housing foreigners, two banks, the Iranian and Turkish embassies, a car park near the headquarters of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and the gates of a U.S. Army base.

The strikes had more symbolic than military effect, injuring a woman and her daughter sleeping in an apartment. Damage was limited.

Authorities arrested five men who were spotted from an aircraft and believed to have launched two rockets that hit the coalition car park, the military said yesterday.

Meanwhile, Japan sent a small advance team yesterday to prepare for the deployment of about 1,000 noncombat personnel, including more than 500 ground troops in that country’s first operation in a conflict zone since World War II. And defense officials in Ukraine said that country’s contingent of 1,650 troops in Iraq will be increased by about 150 aviators and six helicopters in early February.

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