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U.S. soldier killed, 3 injured as hunt for Saddam continues

BAGHDAD, Iraq—An explosive device tossed from an overpass onto a U.S. convoy killed a soldier and injured three others in Baghdad on Monday in a continuation of attacks that have made July the bloodiest month since major combat operations officially ended May 1.

The attack occurred just before noon as the 1st Armored Division convoy was traveling in Baghdad's al Rasheed district, a busy commercial area where crowded markets and narrow passageways have long been a security concern for U.S. forces. Two of the injured soldiers were treated and returned to duty the same day, a U.S. military spokesman said. Fifteen soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the past week.

The killing brought to 49 the number of soldiers who have been killed by hostile action since President Bush declared an end to major conflict on May 1.

Also Monday, four U.S. soldiers accused of kicking and punching Iraqi prisoners were charged in an incident first reported by other troops at a camp in the southern part of the country, U.S. military officials said.

The soldiers, whose names were not released, were charged with assault, maltreatment of prisoners, dereliction of duty, making false statements and other offenses in connection with the alleged abuses in May. The soldiers will face the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing and could be court-martialed.

Staff Sgt. J.J. Johnson, a Baghdad-based spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, said troops are encouraged to report apparent violations of international law regarding treatment of prisoners of war.

"There's that feeling that a soldier does what is right, and the majority of soldiers here are doing what is right," Johnson said. "When they see something that isn't right, they act on it."

For Iraqis, however, the charges are likely to validate suspicion and anger at U.S. troops. Muqtada Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose father was a venerated ayatollah, has twice said he seeks to form a separate religious army because U.S. forces have overstepped their bounds by conducting raids on Islamic scholars, searches that trample local customs and assaults that end in unnecessary civilian deaths.

U.S. forces have stepped up patrols in the past two days as officers said they were closing in on Saddam Hussein. Two brothers loyal to the former regime were arrested at a house in the northern city of Mosul, where attacks on U.S. forces have become increasingly frequent. The 101st Airborne Division seized nearly $200,000 and about 40 million Iraqi dinars (about $27,000 at current rates) in the incident, according to the U.S. military.

Other patrols north of Baghdad turned up large-caliber ammunition, anti-aircraft rounds and other weapons. At least eight Iraqis were detained for questioning, a military spokesman said.

Iraqi police have joined U.S. forces in more than 250 patrols this week. Military officials said they have conducted 29 raids and nearly 2,000 patrols in the past 24 hours. A total of 241 arrests resulted from the operations, including those on charges of murder, kidnapping, assault and looting.


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