Guerrillas Ambush U.S. Convoy in Iraq
By TAREK AL-ISSAWI, Associated Press Writer
KHALDIYAH, Iraq - Guerrillas ambushed a U.S. military convoy Thursday with a remote-controlled bomb, sparking a heavy gunbattle in which a 3-year-old boy was wounded in the chest and two trucks were destroyed.
Two American soldiers were wounded, the U.S. military said in Baghdad, although it was not immediately known if the casualties were from the ambush or a later attack several miles away.
In the nearby town of Fallujah, witnesses said an American patrol opened fire on a wedding, killing a 14-year-old boy, after mistaking celebratory gunfire for an attack.
North of Baghdad, fire raged at an oil pipeline following 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 (news - web sites)'s largest refinery at Beiji.
The violence involving U.S. troops heightened tensions in the "Sunni Triangle," a belt of central Iraq that has been the heart of support for Saddam Hussein (news - web sites) loyalists against the American-led occupation. U.S. soldiers in the region are extremely jumpy, caught in what has become a guerrilla war.
The ambush took place in Khaldiyah. The town's police chief, Col. Khedeir Mekhalef Ali, was assassinated Monday in a brazen shooting — the latest attack on Iraqis working with coalition forces. Ali was shot at a traffic circle on the outskirts of nearby Fallujah as he was returning to his home there.
Al-Arabiya television reported eight Americans were killed and one wounded in Thursday's ambush. The U.S. military did not confirm any deaths.
An Associated Press driver said a 3-year-old boy was shot in the chest. His condition was not known.
Five U.S. tanks, two Bradley fighting vehicles and 40 troops surrounded the neighborhood from which gunmen opened fire after the roadside bomb exploded, an AP reporter in Khaldiyah said. Helicopters hovered above.
Initially as U.S. forces took fire from unknown positions, the soldiers shot back with no obvious targets in an apparent effort to protect themselves until reinforcements arrived, a witness said.
The AP reporter was fired on by one of the tanks with three rounds from its 50-caliber machine gun. An AP photographer said his car was shot up by American troops, the windshield blown out and all the tires flattened. The photographer and his driver were not injured.
Shortly afterward 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.
It was not clear if the military casualty report included the second attack.
Hours later, soldiers pointed tank cannons at reporters every time they tried to approach to find out what had happen.
As it grew dark, the Americans pulled out, removing the burned truck with a crane.
About 100 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."
Wednesday night's shooting at the wedding in Fallujah 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.
Witnesses said guests at the wedding shot guns into the air in celebration, and passing American troops in Humvees, believing they were under attack, opened fire, killing the teen and wounding six other people.
A resident, Adel Hmood, said the Americans had opened fire 360 degrees around themselves. The dead boy, Sufyan Daoud al-Kubaisi, was on his way to buy cigarettes when he was killed, 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.
A policeman who spoke on condition of anonymity said he had heard identical reports. No U.S. forces could be seen in the city Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces, said the military was investigating and could not confirm that a boy was killed.
The military said the pipeline fire north of Baghdad was so fierce that investigators could not get close to determine its cause. 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.
"The fire won't affect oil production or the timetable for resuming exports," Aberle said.
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 was costing the country $7 million each day. 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 center of the city Thursday in a raid to capture car thieves. Two men were arrested at an auto repair shop on suspicion of having stolen a police vehicle.
In an audiotape broadcast Wednesday by al-Arabiya, a speaker purporting to be Saddam urged Iraqis to escalate attacks on Americans and called on U.S.-led forces to leave the country "as soon as possible and without any conditions."
The speaker, who sounded like the ousted Iraqi leader, also urged Washington's international partners not to "fall prey in the traps of American foreign policy" and reject any plan for Iraq's future which legitimizes military occupation.
News editor Aymen Gaballah said the 14-minute tape was obtained Wednesday after a caller to the station's Baghdad office told employees where to find it.
Also Thursday, Sanchez said no Americans or Britons were currently being held by coalition forces in Iraq.
On Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who is in charge of coalition detention centers in Iraq, said six people claiming to be Americans and two who said they were British are among those held for suspicion of involvement in attacks against coalition forces. She said the claims had not been confirmed and "the details become sketchy and their story changes."
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