Military plane struck by missile; two U.S. soldiers killed

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- In the northern city of Mosul, small arms fire and a roadside bomb killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded four.

Guerrillas also struck at an Air Force C-17 transport plane with a ground-fired missile, forcing it to return to Baghdad, a senior Pentagon official said. The U.S. military in Baghdad said the plane reported an engine explosion on takeoff Tuesday; one of the 16 people aboard was slightly injured.

In Mosul, one soldier from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division died and another was wounded when gunmen fired on troops guarding a gasoline station. U.S. soldiers killed one assailant, a military spokesman said. A few hours later, guerrillas detonated a roadside bomb and opened fire on a U.S. military convoy in the city, killing another U.S. soldier and wounding three others.

The deaths brought to 450 the number of American troops who have died in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20. Of those, 310 have died as a result of hostile action. The British military has reported 52 deaths; Italy, 17; Spain, eight, and Denmark, Ukraine and Poland one each.

There has been an upsurge of attacks in Mosul, which was largely quiet in the months following the invasion. The predominantly Sunni Muslim city is home to many former soldiers and party loyalists of Saddam, but sits outside the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad, where the majority of attacks on American forces have occurred since Saddam's ouster. U.S. troops killed Saddam's sons, Odai and Qusai, in Mosul in July.

Pentagon officials said in Washington that 250 of the 700 Iraqi soldiers trained by the U.S.-led occupation authority have quit. The battalion completed a nine-week basic training course in October and was to be the core of a new Iraqi army.

It was uncertain exactly why a third abandoned their new jobs, though some had complained that the starting salary -- $60 a month for privates -- was too low, officials said.

In Madrid, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar announced the arrests of suspects in the slaying of seven Spanish intelligence agents in an ambush south of Baghdad on Nov. 29. The U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division said in a statement that 41 "enemy personnel," including the leader of the cell that carried out the attack, were detained.

In the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, U.S. troops and Iraqi police arrested 29 people, including five policemen, who were suspected of ties to Saddam, said Adnan Mohammed Saleh, a city police officer. Saleh said the policemen were suspected of passing intelligence to anti-occupation guerrillas.

Some coalition officials have recently warned the new U.S.-sponsored Iraqi security forces are being infiltrated by Saddam loyalists who are providing the guerrillas with information on occupation troops.

In northern Iraq, an Apache helicopter made an emergency landing 13 miles south of Mosul on Wednesday. A military spokesman said a technical problem caused a fire in the engine and the crew was safe.

A U.S. Army helicopter made an emergency landing near the central town of Fallujah on Tuesday. Neither of the two crewmen was injured. The U.S. military acknowledged Wednesday the helicopter was likely brought down by small-arms fire or a projectile fired from the ground.

It was the fifth U.S. helicopter downed in Iraq in just over five weeks.