- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

From combined dispatches

TIKRIT, Iraq — Guerrillas killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded four more in a spate of ambushes just one day after a purported message from Saddam Hussein called for intensified attacks on American troops.

The three fatalities took place in a village just south of Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, where soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division came under small-arms fire, Lt. Col. William McDonald told the Associated Press. Two soldiers were wounded in that attack.

Military officials reported two other soldiers wounded in two ambushes near Khaldiya, west of Baghdad, one of which led to a three-hour firefight.

Witnesses told Agence France-Presse they saw between four and eight badly burned U.S. soldiers pulled out of a military vehicle after it hit a roadside bomb, and said it was part of a convoy that was pounded with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) as it limped to a nearby base. U.S. officials did not confirm the account.

In the nearby town of Fallujah, witnesses said an American patrol opened fire on guests at a wedding, killing a 14-year-old boy and wounding six persons, after mistaking celebratory gunfire for an attack.

The violence heightened tensions in the “Sunni triangle,” a belt of central Iraq that has been the heart of resistance against the American-led occupation. U.S. soldiers in the region are very jumpy, caught in what has become a guerrilla war.

North of Baghdad, fire raged at an oil pipeline after an explosion at the site, the U.S. military said, raising concerns that it was the latest in a series of sabotage attacks. The pipeline carries crude oil from fields near Kirkuk to Iraq’s largest refinery at Beiji.

The soldiers killed near Tikrit were part of a patrol investigating a site suspected of being used to launch RPGs, Col. McDonald said. He gave no further details and did not say if any Iraqis were killed in the firefight.

Khaldiya, where two other ambushes took place, is the same town whose police chief, Col. Khedeir Mekhalef Ali, was fatally shot Monday while driving home from work.

The first attack occurred when a roadside bomb exploded as a military convoy passed on Khaldiya’s main street. Gunmen then opened fire from unknown positions at the Americans. Initially, the U.S. soldiers shot back with no obvious targets — often at anything they felt threatening — as they waited for reinforcements, a witness said.

An Associated Press driver saw a young man, still alive after being shot in the chest, being placed in a taxi. An AP reporter and photographer covering the incident were fired on, but neither was hurt.

Photographer Karim Kadim and his driver ran to safety from their car after an American tank trained its machine gun on the vehicle. It was subsequently hit about 20 times, blowing out the windshield and flattening all the tires. The reporter ran around the corner of a building as a tank fired three rounds from its .50-caliber machine gun in his direction.

Five U.S. tanks, two Bradley Fighting Vehicles and 40 troops surrounded the neighborhood from which gunmen opened fire, an AP reporter in Khaldiya said. Helicopters hovered above as a transport truck destroyed in the attack smoldered.

Shortly after the first blast and nine miles to the west, a second roadside bomb hit a military convoy of three Humvees and a truck. One Humvee was engulfed in flames.

The military said two American soldiers were wounded in the violence, but did not specify in which ambush the casualties took place.

As it grew dark, the Americans pulled out from Khaldiya’s main street, removing the burned truck with a crane.

Hundreds of Iraqis danced in the streets and carried a large photo of Saddam dressed in military fatigues. There was celebratory gunfire and the people chanted, “With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam.”

In Wednesday night’s shooting at the Fallujah wedding, witnesses said guests shot guns into the air in celebration, and passing American troops in Humvees, believing themselves under attack, opened fire, killing the teen and wounding six other persons.

A resident, Adel Hmood, said the Americans opened fire 360 degrees around themselves. The dead boy, Sufyan Daoud al-Kubaisi, was on his way to buy cigarettes when he was killed, Mr. Hmood said.

Bullet holes in homes and buildings in the area, about two blocks off the main street in Fallujah, suggested heavy firing by the Americans.

The bloodshed came after American soldiers mistakenly killed eight U.S.-allied Iraqi police officers outside the town in a friendly-fire incident. The military has apologized for the incident and opened an investigation.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces, said the military was investigating the reports of the wedding shooting and could not confirm that a boy was killed.

Meanwhile, the pipeline fire north of Baghdad was so fierce that investigators could not get close to determine its cause, the military said. Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division based in Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, said valves on the pipeline were being closed to shut off fuel to the fire.

Another pipeline, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, has been hit by a string of sabotage attacks. L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, said the line’s closure is costing the country $7 million daily. The military says the line should resume operation in about a month.

In Baghdad, police backed by U.S. soldiers and helicopters sealed a large part of the city center yesterday in a raid to capture car thieves. Two men were arrested at an auto-repair shop on suspicion of having stolen a police vehicle.

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