A US soldier was killed and two others were injured when a powerful explosion went off as their supply convoy made its way along the main highway west of Baghdad, soldiers at the scene said yesterday.
The explosion occurred at about 9am as a 20-vehicle military convoy was passing a wrecked truck that had been abandoned along the side of the road, Specialist Jose Colon said. The soldier that died was blown out of a truck that was nearest to the blast, Colon said. Soldiers believe a bomb was hidden in the wreckage and remotely detonated as the convoy passed.
Sergeant Diego Baez said he was in the vehicle that was most badly damaged, but managed to escape injury. He wept as he described the dead soldier.
"We slept next to each other just last night. He was my best friend." Baez said.
The injured soldiers shook as they were put into a Humvee with medical personnel and taken to a nearby hospital.
"We were just driving along when the explosion hit," Colon said. "It was very big."
After the explosion other soldiers arrived in Bradley fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. They began house-to-house searches in the villages surrounding the scene of the attack. A local resident, Mohammed al-Qazi, said the bombing was the work of men from the tense cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, farther down the road.
Those cities are part of the so-called "Sunni Triangle" stretching west and north of Baghdad where pro-Saddam insurgents have been carrying out attacks against the American occupation force at a rate of 12 each day.
Soldiers said the victim had recently arrived in Iraq after being stationed in Kuwait. The soldiers were all reservists from a supply unit based in Puerto Rico.
"We just lost one of our buddies. It could have been any of us," said Specialist Adalberto Bonilla, who along with Colon had been in a vehicle behind the most badly damaged truck. Both he and Colon were unharmed.
Specialist Carlos McKenzie said the supply convoy, which was on its way to a US base in the desert near Iraq's border with Jordan, did not have enough protection by more heavily armed American units.
"We need more protection. We've seen enough. We've stayed in Iraq long enough," he said.
US soldiers have come under increasingly ferocious attacks in recent weeks. The soldier was the 33rd to die in hostile action since US President George W. Bush declared an end to major hostilities on May 1.
Also yesterday, a US Marine died in the southern city of Hilla when he fell off a building he was guarding, the military said. The soldier was rushed to a hospital but died of his injuries.
The deaths highlighted the long and painful road left for allied forces as they try to stabilize Iraq.
On Tuesday, the American administrator of Iraq linked the length of the US occupation to Iraq's political process, saying that American forces would remain in the country until Iraqis agree on a new constitution and set up a democratic government.
The new Governing Council, meanwhile, was meeting again yesterday to discuss security and education matters, said Nouri al-Badran, spokesman for the Iraqi National Accord, which holds a seat on the council members. On Tuesday, it decided to set up special courts to try former members of former president Saddam Hussein's regime who are accused of involvement in mass executions, torture and other human rights violations.