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5 soldiers wounded as groups urge more attacks against Americans

BAGHDAD, Iraq—As a new videotaped message Saturday urged continuing attacks on allied forces in Iraq, guerillas wounded five Americans in two separate incidents.

Three American military policemen assigned to the Army's 82nd Airborne Division were injured in Baghdad on Saturday when a bomb was detonated near their convoy. Hours earlier, shortly before midnight, two soldiers from the Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade were wounded when their convoy was hit by rocket propelled grenades in the northern city of Kirkuk, a predominately Kurdish area where attacks on U.S. soldiers have been rare.

All five of the soldiers were evacuated for medical treatment and were in stable condition.

The attacks came amid growing concern and confusion about whether the continuing violence against American soldiers is part of a coordinated guerilla campaign.

In a videotape aired Saturday on the Dubai-based satellite network Al Arabiya, five masked men claiming to belong to three groups called the White Flags, Muslim Youth and Army of Mohammed urged armed attacks against Americans.

"We want to tell other groups that guerilla war is the only way to free the country, and we want to say that foreign troops who were sent here must be attacked in order to prove to the world that we are against the occupation," said one of the men on the tape, dated Saturday. "We want to warn countries of the world for the last time not to send troops into Iraq."

A number of groups—some claiming loyalty to the old regime, some claiming no allegiance and at least one claiming links to al-Qaida—have taken responsibility for attacks on U.S. soldiers in recent days.

L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator for Iraq, backed off earlier U.S. assertions that Ansar al Islam, a radical Taliban-style militia group with ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network, may have carried out a car bombing Thursday at Jordan's embassy in Baghdad. The attack killed 19 people and wounded more than 60, most of them civilians.

But Thursday's car bombing increased fears that Islamic fundamentalists could be taking a stronger role in the Iraqi insurgency, which coalition officials blame mostly on the old regime. At least 61 U.S. and British soldiers have died in combat in Iraq and more than 400 have been wounded since May 1, when President Bush declared an end to major combat operations. The bombing has also raised fears that more attacks on civilians and other "soft" targets could be on the way.

Bremer denounced the attack Saturday as an indiscriminate act of terrorism, but said any of several groups could be responsible, including loyalists of Saddam's former regime, Fedayeen paramilitaries, or foreign terrorists who slipped into Iraq either before or after the war.

"We know we have a terrorist threat in this country," Bremer said, speaking at an Arab-language press conference. "Among those groups we have concerns about is Ansar al Islam, and they're certainly high on the list."

"It's possible that some of them could have conducted this type of attack," he said. "I frankly have not reached a conclusion."

An FBI forensic analysis team was dispatched to Baghdad to assist the Iraqi police in its investigation. But Bremer stressed that the team will only lend technical support to the Iraqis, who lack the proper forensic skills and equipment to conduct a thorough investigation.

"Iraqi police retain jurisdiction and authority in this matter," said Bremer, adding that if suspects are caught they will be tried in Iraqi courts.

There was good news Saturday. U.S. military officials announced that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's former interior minister, number 29 on the list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis, had surrendered to U.S. forces.

And President Bush insisted that progress is being made in Iraq despite the continued violence. "Every day we are working to make Iraq more secure," Bush said in his weekly radio address from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, where he is spending much of the month.

"Coalition forces remain on the offensive against the Baath Party loyalists and foreign terrorists who are trying to prevent order and stability. More and more Iraqis are coming forward with specific information as to the whereabouts of these violent thugs, enabling us to carry out raids to round them up and seize stockpiles of weapons."

He also said life is steadily improving for Iraqis. Among the accomplishments he cited: schools are opened and teachers are drawing bigger paychecks; banks have reopened; the oil industry is producing a million barrels of crude oil and 2 million gallons of gasoline a day; and more than 150 newspapers are publishing free from government control.

"Every day, Iraq draws closer to the free and functioning society its people were long denied," Bush said. " Life is returning to normal for the Iraqi people."


(Knight Ridder correspondent Steve Thomma contributed to this report.)


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