- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

BAGHDAD — Gunmen in a town full of Saddam Hussein loyalists opened fire on American soldiers yesterday, killing two and wounding nine in the latest in a string of attacks reminding U.S. forces that duty in Iraq is still a deadly mission.

The American general commanding troops in Baghdad blamed the attacks on Fedayeen and other death squads loyal to Saddam.

“It’s very small groups — one or two people — in isolated attacks against our soldiers,” said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which has been trying to keep the peace since fighting its way into Baghdad in early April.

Yesterday’s attack occurred in Fallujah, a rough industrial town a half-hour west of central Baghdad that had erupted in anti-American violence in the past.

Hours after that attack, two American military police officers were wounded in rocket-propelled grenade assaults on a Baghdad police station.

Since Sunday, eight Americans have died in ambushes, explosions or accidents, hammering home to soldiers and military planners that six weeks after Baghdad’s fall, the country remains a tumultuous and dangerous place.

Despite a steady flow of reinforcements into Iraq, the 22,000 soldiers of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division will be staying in Baghdad indefinitely, Gen. Blount said yesterday. “I don’t know what the future is. I know we’re going to have a presence here for some time.”

The division, which battled its way up the Tigris River and took Baghdad on April 9, was to have been replaced by the 1st Armored Division about this time.

Gen. Blount said it would be helpful for other coalition members to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, as Poland, Denmark and other nations have pledged to do.

“That will enable us to send some of our soldiers home,” Gen. Blount said. “I don’t know how quickly the Poles and the others can get here.”

In Brussels, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns said the United States may ask NATO to play a bigger role in Iraq within the next six months.

The 19-nation alliance already plans to provide logistical support to Poland, which is due to lead a 7,000-strong multinational force in the area between Baghdad and Basra.

But Mr. Burns told reporters, “This is only the first step,” Reuters news agency reported. “In the next five to six months, we could ask NATO to play a larger role.”

In Fallujah, U.S. forces in late April fired on angry demonstrators, killing at least 18 and injuring scores.

The area is a nexus for commercial chemical production and engineering, and has been a focal point for U.N. weapons inspectors and U.S. intelligence in seeking weapons of mass destruction.

In yesterday’s incident, U.S. soldiers returned fire, killing two of the attackers and capturing six others, U.S. Central Command said in a statement. The suspects were being interrogated last night, coalition officials said.

Troops routinely have set up overnight checkpoints on the main road leading to Fallujah.

The checkpoint came under fire a few hours after midnight, apparently from gunmen who approached the area in two cars.

Soldiers found weapons while searching one car at the checkpoint, and then occupants of the second vehicle opened fire with small arms, grenades and rocket-propelled grenades, said Maj. Randy Martin, a spokesman for the Army’s V Corps.

All the U.S. soldiers hit were from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, based in Fort Carson, Colo., Maj. Martin said. The Army withheld their names until their families could be notified.

A U.S. Army medical helicopter was damaged during the exchange when a Bradley Fighting Vehicle accidentally struck it while maneuvering into a firing position, Central Command said.

“You’ve always got to be worried,” said Sgt. Ariel Saez, 28, a soldier with the 1st Armored Division manning a Baghdad checkpoint. He told the Associated Press: “You hear the gunshots constantly at night. It makes you wonder if it’s one of us being put down. We always worry about it.”

On Sunday alone, Americans were targeted in three ambushes in Baghdad, all along a highway between the city center and the airport, said Lt. Clint Mundinger, a U.S. Army intelligence officer.

In one, an explosive was placed onto the highway in the path of a Humvee carrying four U.S. soldiers and detonated as the vehicle drove past it.

All four soldiers were injured, though two managed to fire on the suspect as he fled and left a trail of blood. The other two soldiers were trapped in the burning Humvee as ammunition it was carrying began to explode. Both were badly injured, and one later died.

Hours later, someone dropped a grenade from an overpass, apparently trying to hit a moving Humvee. No one was injured.

Also that night, a Humvee driven by three military police officers hit a trip wire, triggering an explosion. No injuries were reported.

In the other incidents Monday, one American soldier was killed and another was wounded when their convoy was ambushed in northern Iraq and one soldier died and three were wounded when their vehicle hit a land mine or a piece of unexploded ordnance in Baghdad.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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