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One U.S. soldier killed, another wounded in Tikrit attack

TIKRIT, Iraq—One U.S. soldier was killed and another was injured when unknown assailants shot at them and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the checkpoint they were manning about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Other soldiers followed the assailants to a marketplace after the attack south of the town of Balad late Monday and detained more than 200 people.

Authorities didn't immediately identify the soldier who was killed, pending notification of family members. The injured soldier, who was cut on the face, returned to duty, American officials said Tuesday. Both were with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

The attack on U.S. forces in Balad, south of Tikrit, came as officials said they thought tensions were lessening in the area. Tikrit was the hometown and stronghold of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

American forces near Tikrit continued to hunt for former members of Saddam's paramilitary force and those on a list of former regime officials who are most wanted for interrogation by the United States.

In Samarra, which is near Balad, military officials met with tribal leaders Tuesday to defuse tensions after U.S. soldiers fired on a vehicle containing wedding celebrants last week and killed three of them. Members of the victims' families have said the vehicle's occupants were firing their weapons into the air in celebration when they were fired on. The Army maintains that at least one of the vehicle's occupants fired at American soldiers, pocking the wall behind them with bullet holes.

In another development Tuesday, American officials appeared to be increasingly at odds with the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella group of former Iraqi exiles that is backed by hawks in the Pentagon.

The INC and other political groups in Iraq have objected to a new U.S. plan, which was announced Sunday, to scrap the idea of a national conference of about 300 people that would have elected an interim government.

Instead, American officials plan to choose 25 to 30 Iraqis to serve on a council that would advise coalition authorities, which would allow coalition authorities to maintain control longer. The council would find officials to run Iraq's ministries and oversee the drafting of a constitution. National elections would follow.

Entifadh Qanbar, a spokesman for the INC, said in Baghdad that the INC and six other political groups that had been cooperating with the U.S. authorities in Iraq had decided to convene a national assembly anyway.


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