Mon, Jul 21, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US soldiers die in attack in northern Iraq

AP , BAGHDAD

Iraqis carry portraits of assassinated Shiite cleric Mohammed Sadeq Sadr and banners expressing loyalty to his son Mogtada and rejection to imperialism while chanting anti-US slogans, in Baghdad on Saturday.

PHOTO: AFP

Two soldiers from the US' 101st Airborne Division were killed early yesterday and another was injured when their convoy came under rocket propelled grenade and small arms fire in northern Iraq, the US military said.

All three soldiers were rushed to a nearby military hospital, where two of them died, said Corperal Todd Pruden, a spokesman for the military in Baghdad.

The attack occurred near Tal Afar, just west of the northern city of Mosul and about 400km northwest of Baghdad, Pruden said. There were no reported enemy casualties and no arrests were made.

US soldiers have come under increasing attacks in recent weeks. The deaths bring to 151 the number of American soldiers killed in action since the March 20 start of the war, four more than the total killed in the 1991 Gulf War.

Most of the recent violence has occurred in an area north and west of Baghdad called the Sunni triangle, where some support for Saddam Hussein remains. Mosul is north of the Sunni triangle and has not been the site of much previous violence.

A US soldier was killed in the early hours Saturday while guarding a bank in west Baghdad, and another US serviceman died Friday.

As casualties mounted, the commander of coalition troops in Iraq said Saturday his forces were studying each attack carefully.

"We learn from every engagement in order to learn to beat the enemy. Clearly, we are fighting and we expect that this will continue for a while," Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told reporters.

He said US forces would set up a 6,500-man strong Iraqi civilian defense force with members patrolling with US forces.

He said the Iraqis would be armed and will work with the US as translators reduce misunderstandings between the US forces and the Iraqi people.

Big demonstrations were staged in the capital Saturday with Shiites marching on the US military and political headquarters in a former Saddam palace. They were protesting because they said the US military briefly surrounded the house of a Shiite cleric in the holy city of Najaf after he issued an incendiary anti-US sermon during Friday prayers.

The military said it was checking whether they had taken any action against Muqtada al-Sadr.

Meanwhile, Iraq's American-backed Governing Council wrapped up its first week in existence, failing to choose a president and instead opting for a weak, three-man rotating leadership.

The council, shepherded into existence by L. Paul Bremer, the US administrator for Iraq, was announced last Sunday, saying its first order of business was the election of a president.

But when that did not happen after six days in session, officials of the Iraqi government said on Saturday that it would share the leadership job among at least three of 25 members.

A diplomat who works closely with the council said the decision to establish a rotating presidency did not reflect political divisions among members of the governing body, whom, he said, were cooperating well despite their religious and ethnic differences. The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the move to a joint presidency meant the job would be largely symbolic.

The move clearly reflected an unwillingness among council members to vest too much authority in any one of them.

Bremer, meantime, left Baghdad unannounced Friday and was expected to be in Washington for about a week.

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