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One U.S. soldier killed, five wounded in Iraqi attack

Friday, June 6, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Guns drawn and tensed for battle, U.S. forces locked down a neighborhood for a house-to-house search Thursday, targeting attackers who killed one American soldier and wounded five others in the latest eruption of anti-occupation violence.

It was at least the sixth U.S. soldier killed in attacks in Iraq over the past two weeks.

The assault came a day after more than 1,500 soldiers from the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division -- which helped take Baghdad -- moved into Fallujah and surrounding areas in central Iraq. They are charged with stopping attacks on U.S. occupying forces in the region.

One soldier was killed and five wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade launched at an Army checkpoint near a police station at about 12:30 a.m. Thursday. The wounded were airlifted to a military field hospital. No identities were made public.

"There was blood everywhere," said Jamal Hussein Ali, 27, who arrived minutes after the RPG exploded. "We saw the American troops shouting and running. They crossed the street, broke down a shop door and took cover inside."

Scores of Army military police sealed off the area and went into houses. At least one man was taken away in plastic handcuffs -- apparently for weapons possession. Military police also photographed crowds of spectators, a standard intelligence-gathering tool.

A U.S. military statement did not say if any Iraqis were killed or wounded in the pursuit that followed the RPG attack.

The soldiers who came under fire were part of a company from the Army's 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Ky., which is temporarily attached to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The regiment has been based in central Iraq for weeks.

"They finished a dismounted patrol and they were preparing to leave ... when they were engaged in what I think was an RPG attack," said Lt. Col. Toby Green of the 3rd Armored Cavalry, which has about 300 soldiers in the area.

Weapons found

Weapons were found in a search of the area, Green said.

U.S. forces have come under increasing attack in Fallujah, a conservative city about 30 miles west of Baghdad. Senior military commanders acknowledge the resistance but say they believe it is not coordinated.

"There's still resistance here, that's true," Green said. "It is fair to say there is not enough security here yet. The safety and security of the town needs to improve if any kind of rebuilding process is going to continue and accelerate."

Anger in Fallujah grew in late April after confrontations between residents and American forces left 18 Iraqis dead and at least 78 wounded. Residents have accused U.S. troops of using excessive force and of not respecting Islamic practices.

On Wednesday, some 1,500 troops from the 3rd Infantry moved into Fallujah and the nearby city of Habaniyah in a show of force. The rocket-propelled grenade attack took place hours later.

By Thursday afternoon, military police attached to the 3rd Infantry had blocked off streets and moved from house to house in the area around the police station. They rousted residents and ordered them to leave -- broadcasting messages in Arabic from loudspeakers mounted on Humvees.

"The coalition is involved in a dangerous operation," the announcements said. "For your safety, you must evacuate this area. Stay off the streets or you'll be hurt or wounded."

Later Thursday, assailants fired two rocket-propelled grenades at U.S. troops about two miles west of Habaniyah, narrowly missing a group conducting reconnaissance. The rockets flew out of high reeds on a road along the Euphrates and the soldiers did not see who fired them, an officer said. There were no injuries.

In Habaniyah, about five miles west of Fallujah, a task force commander from the 3rd Infantry met with the mayor and police chief to begin working together to improve security and quality of life. Lt. Col. Philip DeCamp, commander of battalion-sized Task Force 4-64, asked the mayor to set out the five biggest problems facing the city.

Majed Baseer Ali told him civil servants had not been paid in three months, the health center lacked medical supplies, there was a shortage of propane gas for cooking and gasoline prices had skyrocketed.

He said he wanted U.S. troops to stop patrolling the city and to remain only on a nearby air base or the main road.

DeCamp said he would do all he could about the problems. But he said the U.S. presence would depend on the Iraqis.

"I don't want to be here. I was ready to go home when I was sent here," he said.

Speaking to the police chief, Abed Khalouf Jada'n, DeCamp said: "You are responsible for security. The sooner your men have the situation under control, the sooner we will leave."


EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press Writer Chris Tomlinson in Habaniyah contributed to this report.


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