FALLUJAH, Iraq—One U.S. soldier was killed and five were wounded early Thursday when an unknown assailant sneaked over a wall and fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an American checkpoint in front of a police station.
The 12:30 a.m. ambush was another sign that the town of Fallujah, about an hour's drive west of Baghdad, remains a hotbed of resistance against U.S. forces.
Two other American soldiers were killed May 27 when Iraqis opened fire on a checkpoint.
While improving security remains a top priority, the U.S. government is moving forward with plans to establish a political council of 25 to 30 prominent Iraqis who will be asked to help write a new constitution.
However, several Iraqi Kurdish and Shiite Muslim groups, including the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, haven't agreed to join the council.
L. Paul Bremer, the American official in charge, was expected to meet with Iraqis on Friday, including some who may get positions on the council.
The list of Iraqis expected to attend the meeting has broadened from representatives of the seven political parties that had been cooperating with the Americans. U.S. officials have made it clear that they want to widen their contacts and broaden the process to include more Iraqis.
Among those expected to meet with Bremer on Friday are Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and exile; Hamed Majeed Mousa, the general secretary of Iraq's Communist Party; and three women, Safya al Sohel, Baskal Esho and Saaeda Kadomi.
The U.S. military is convinced that the recent attacks in Fallujah, which they describe as "combat operations," are being conducted by Baath Party members and remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime. Soldiers sealed off some roads and searched at least a dozen homes Thursday afternoon while residents watched from their front gates.
"It seems the enemy has left Baghdad and is heading west," said Spc. Scott McCain of the 101st Airborne Division. "We consider this a hot spot, and to eliminate the hot spot you have to do house-to-house searches."
McCain said many residents had been cooperative, and some had offered the soldiers water, bread and tea. But many Fallujah residents interviewed said they were angry about the searches and resented the growing U.S. military presence.
"The soldiers came at 6 a.m. while we were sleeping," Mohammed Obud said. "They handcuffed us and threw us to the ground. We are not guilty. By doing this, it will encourage more attacks. It is better to die than to have them enter our homes."
Obud pointed out places in his home where he said the soldiers had destroyed things in a hunt for weapons: a smashed door to a bedroom dresser, a bag of food rations sliced open with a knife, a bullet hole through a front window. He claimed that a tank damaged the brick wall surrounding his home. His relatives were busy repairing the wall Thursday.
While the sprawling city of Baghdad feels relatively safe, tension and anger are easily felt on the streets of Fallujah. Crowds of men keep an eye on American soldiers from the shade of nearby shops. The soldiers who were attacked are assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. The names of the dead and wounded were withheld so their family members can be notified first.
Throngs of men swarmed around reporters and photographers and eagerly took them to an abandoned building where the attack apparently took place. One man showed a set of dog tags that he said were from a wounded soldier. Others pointed to blood splattered on the wall and stressed that it was the blood of U.S. soldiers. Another man took a sledgehammer to the wall and began smashing it.
"This is only the beginning," Felah Hassan Ali said. "The end of America will happen here."
In recent days, the U.S. military has repositioned parts of the 3rd Infantry Division and is supplying more combat power to the hot spots west and north of Baghdad. About 1,500 troops arrived in Fallujah on Wednesday.
"In Fallujah, the fact that the attack was by an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) tells me that this is another example of the pockets of resistance we've been encountering in the region," Col. Rick Thomas, a spokesman for Coalition Joint Task Force 7, said Thursday.
Lt. Gen. David McKiernan said Wednesday that he didn't think the attacks were coordinated. "As I look at the reports, I believe they are localized, decentralized attacks by those who were part of the old regime," he said. "I don't see a national-level effort."
Fallujah has been a source of escalating tension since April, when 18 residents were killed and 78 were wounded in clashes with American forces.
When asked why Fallujah has put up such a fierce fight, Adel al Ahmed said the town was very close-knit.
"We all know each other. In Baghdad there are too many people. Everyone is family here," al Ahmed said. "We don't need Americans to come here. We will continue to fight. We Iraqis are like the Palestinians now."
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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