FALLUJAH, Iraq—One U.S. soldier of the 82nd Airborne Division was killed and seven others were injured Monday while escorting children to school, a spokesman for the division said.
The dead soldier was the third killed in action in the so-called "Sunni Triangle" in two days and the 104th to die in battle since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations.
Soldiers patrolling the tribal towns west and north of Baghdad in recent weeks have increasingly come under attack from roadside bombs and guerrillas armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.
In Fallujah on Monday, the soldiers—members of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment—were escorting 15 children to school at about 1 p.m. when they got out of their Humvees to check a large, trouble-prone intersection for roadside bombs, said Staff Sgt. Rodrick Stallings, a public affairs officer with the 82nd Airborne.
"They got ready to remount and there was an explosion," he said. "We're not sure what it was."
The unit came under immediate small-arms fire, but no other soldiers were injured in the firefight, Stallings said.
None of the children was hurt, he said.
The soldiers searched three houses in the area and detained 13 people for questioning, Stallings said. He had no information about the number of Iraqis who may have been killed or wounded.
In what may be a related incident, at least one Iraqi was killed and another seriously wounded when U.S. soldiers fired on a truck, Iraqi police said.
The truck driver, Merair Mohammed Farhan, 50, said he was driving up the main Baghdad-Fallujah highway near the Fallujah mosque when U.S. soldiers opened fire from behind a bulldozer.
"They destroyed the truck. I got shot," Farhan said from Fallujah General Hospital, his head and chest covered with bloody bandages. "The soldiers pulled me out of the truck. I was bleeding. There was blood covering me. The soldiers kept checking me to see if I was alive.
"There was no reason to shoot me," he said. "This is just like Israel."
Iraqi police identified the dead man as Nadum al Esawi. A policeman said that several other people were injured and taken to another hospital.
Stallings had no information on that incident.
The ambush took place in the same area where guerrillas attacked a stalled convoy in Fallujah on Sunday.
No one was injured in the attack in the town about 35 miles west of Baghdad, the military said. But the attack detonated an ammunitions truck, setting off a spectacular blast.
Young Iraqis who witnessed the explosion celebrated in the streets, shouting that they were beating the Americans.
On Saturday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and another was wounded in an ambush southwest of Kirkuk, according to the military.
A 4th Infantry Division Patrol was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire at about 8:40 p.m. Soldiers of Task Force Ironhorse returned fire, but no further contact was made with the guerrilla fighters, the military said.
There has been an average of 22 attacks a day on coalition forces in recent weeks.
U.S. forces have also been attacked by Shiite radicals in Baghdad and Karbala as outlaw clerics jockey for power and position.
A senior coalition official on Sunday said that "vast" areas of the country are free of violence but those areas don't draw headlines.
On Thursday, four American soldiers were killed in one of the coalition's bloodiest days since May 1. A roadside bomb killed a U.S. soldier in Baghdad, and three soldiers, including a lieutenant colonel, died in a battle with radical Shiite militiamen in Karbala.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ