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2 U.S. soldiers killed, 6 injured in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Two American soldiers were killed and six injured in a spate of attacks and an accident in Iraq Monday, one of the most violent days since American troops rolled into its capital last month.

The attacks, including an ambush, occurred on the same day that L. Paul Bremer III, the top U.S. official in Iraq, declared a "new era" for the nation and spoke of selecting leaders for a new government. Yet many Iraqis warned they will resist any U.S.-imposed government, demanding that a national congress be held this summer to select their new leaders.

Bremer and other American reconstruction leaders are distancing themselves from calls for a national congress, and say they will choose the country's interim leaders.

But Monday's violence shows that American troops are continuing to face both armed and political resistance to their efforts to establish order in Iraq.

U.S. military officials were withholding the names of the dead and injured pending notification of relatives. One soldier was killed and three were injured when a Humvee struck a landmine or some other explosive in the outskirts of Baghdad. A statement by the U.S. Central Command said the incident "appears to be a result of hostile action."

Another soldier was killed and two injured when a tractor trailer collided with a Humvee in what appeared to be an accident on a main supply route northwest of the Talil, about 170 miles south of Baghdad.

The other injuries occurred when American troops encountered fire in an ambush near the town of Hadithah, about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad.

In a statement issued Monday, the U.S. military said that gunmen fired assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at a convoy of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

"The eight-vehicle convoy was conducting a resupply mission from Al Asad Air Base to Al Qaim (on the Syrian border) when it was attacked at about 6:15 a.m. (0215 GMT)," the statement said.

In another attack, a military police position in Baqoba north of Baghdad that had been used by Shiite militiamen came under grenade attack, but no one was injured. While searching for the attackers, U.S. troops with the Fifth Corps killed a woman who continued to walk toward them after being told to stop.

The woman allegedly carried two grenades.

In the last incident, someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade at 101st Airborne Division soldiers who were on patrol in Baiji but the round did not explode, the military said.

The increased violence is an ominous sign of the vehement opposition that many Iraqis express toward American efforts to establish a government in Iraq.

"America has two choices: one is to force things on the Iraqi people and the second is to listen to the Iraqi people," said Dr. Hamid al Bayati, a spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. "If they try to force things on us, they will repeat Saddam's mistakes."

Iraqi groups want to hold a national conference next month that would include more than 350 specially selected tribal, regional, political and ethnic leaders who would be asked to choose an interim government. But Bremer has questioned the plan by saying that the seven leading groups, which include Kurds, Shia and exiles, don't fully represent Iraq's diverse population.

On Monday, Bremer pointedly refused to endorse their plan for a national congress, and sources said the former ambassador is steadfast in his belief that he and the United States have ultimate authority over who runs the new government.

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Since arriving in Iraq two weeks ago, Bremer has worked to gain control of a post-war nation that appeared to be drifting into a whirlpool of violence and anarchy.

Almost immediately, Bremer and military officials put more patrols on the streets of Baghdad where car-jackings, kidnappings and murders became shockingly common. Bremer imposed new gun control laws, worked to ostracize loyalists of Saddam Hussein and officially scrapped Iraq's feared military and intelligence operations.

On Monday amid the violence, Bremer all but declared his efforts a success.

"I think we are reaching the end of the first phase of our task here," said Bremer, as he announced the start of a "new phase" that would focus on fixing the Iraqi economy.

New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Bremer's new security chief, echoed that the crime wave is under control.

"Are there things going on out there? Yes," said former. "Is it out of control? No."

Kerik, who wore a bulletproof vest and pistol strapped to his leg to the news conference, said he will work to bring a new level of professionalism to the police department by imposing a new vetting process to get rid of officers linked to the Baath Party, organized crime and terrorism.

Despite the upbeat assessment from Kerik and Bremer, many Iraqis—especially in Baghdad—are still forced to sit in long lines for gas, endure hours-long wait for gas, and spend most of their days without electricity.

Kerik said that it would take time for Iraqis to see and feel the progress that has been made in the past five weeks.

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(Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.)

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

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ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Paul Bremer

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