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Grenade attack wounds five U.S. soldiers west of Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq—U.S. military officials in Baghdad said Thursday that American troops in the city of Fallujah had been attacked late Wednesday by someone who rolled a grenade into their compound, wounding seven.

The grenade attack was a continuation of the tensions that have gripped that city west of Baghdad for much of the week. Two earlier incidents left 17 Iraqis dead when U.S. troops fired into crowds after someone in the crowds fired at them.

Unrest in cities outside Baghdad has become a growing concern for American officials who are trying to establish control in areas that have seen little U.S. military presence since Baghdad fell three weeks ago.

In the city of Baqubah, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, elements of the Army's 4th Infantry Division took five police officials into custody Thursday after the American soldiers discovered that the police were removing weapons from a police station and attempting to hide them in a nearby barracks.

Photos of an Iranian ayatollah were found in the police station, and military officials said they suspected the police had ties to the Badr Brigade, a Shiite Muslim paramilitary organization that recently moved into Iraq from Iran.

The detentions added to a sense of unease in Baqubah, where U.S. Army patrols come under fire nightly.

A U.S. Army general on Thursday defended the actions of the American soldiers who had fired into the crowds in Fallujah earlier this week, but suggested that the military might turn to tear gas and other riot-control techniques to deal with unruly crowds.

"We have the riot-control kits here," said Brig. Gen. Daniel Hahn, the chief of staff of V Corps, the Army unit responsible for order in Baghdad and northern Iraq. "We have had training programs going on since the beginning, since before the war started. Now we've gotten into a situation where it is not as violent, and we have an opportunity to employ these types of systems."

He defended the U.S. soldiers in Fallujah, saying they had acted within their rules of engagement when they fired into the crowds. He said they had a right to act in self-defense.

Hahn also said someone apparently entered the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment's compound in Fallujah on Wednesday night and threw a grenade toward American troops. Seven soldiers were wounded by shrapnel and evacuated for treatment.

"It's pretty clear that there are some really bad actors in Fallujah, and we'll just have to deal with that," Hahn said.

Another soldier from the unit died Thursday in a tank accident. According to a radio report from the regiment, the tank drove over a berm, which collapsed, and the tank slid into a canal and filled with water. Other crew members escaped, but one soldier was trapped and drowned.

In Baqubah, there have been no shooting incidents, but crowds gather throughout the day.

Thursday, U.S. troops in Baqubah had discovered a large weapons cache and were attempting to remove it when they noticed the police officers removing weapons and trying to hide them.


(Knight Riddder photographer Eric Kampha contributed to this report.)


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): fallujah