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3 British soldiers killed during ambush in Basra

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Three British soldiers were killed Saturday during an ambush in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, as United Nations staffers returned to work in tents four days after a truck bomb destroyed their headquarters, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 100.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported that its soldiers killed two ethnic Turkomen who opened fire on U.S. soldiers trying to quell ethnic fighting in the town of Tuz Kharmato in northern Iraq. There also were reports of two explosions in the northern city of Kirkuk in a second day of fighting between ethnic Turkomen and Kurds that has killed an estimated 10 people.

The fighting broke out Friday after Kurds reportedly damaged a newly reopened Turkomen Muslim shrine on Friday.

The attack on the British soldiers was the third fatal assault on coalition soldiers in southern Iraq in the last 10 days, and the deadliest on British troops since six military policemen were killed during a riot in the town of Majjar in June.

Squadron Leader Lynda Sawers, a British Army spokeswoman, said the soldiers were killed after a group of Iraqi gunmen opened fire on their convoy around 8:30 a.m. local time (12:30 a.m. EDT) in central Basra. One other soldier was seriously wounded.

The latest incident comes during one of the bloodiest three-week periods in post-war Iraq and as violence against coalition forces and civilians appears to be increasing. Ten British soldiers, 65 Americans and one Danish soldier have been killed in action in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat operations over on May 1. At least 273 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March.

International debate is intensifying over whether there should be a wider U.N. mandate in Iraq and more international participation in post-war security and reconstruction efforts.

With Baghdad still reeling from Tuesday's bombing of the U.N. headquarters, L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator, insisted that the coalition is making progress in rebuilding the war-torn country.

"Those yearning for the return of Baathism will be disappointed," said Bremer, referring to deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's former regime. "And those seeking the imposition of some fresh tyranny will fail. They may pull off an operation or two or maybe 10, but they will fail."

Bremer reeled off a list of accomplishments including millions spent on repairing power stations, water plants, sewage facilities and irrigation projects across Iraq. One thousand new schools have been built, five million textbooks will be distributed to Iraqi children when they return to school, he noted. All 2,400 hospitals in the country are now operational. Thirty-nine of the 55 most-wanted members of Saddam's former regime have now been captured or killed by coalition troops, he said. And coalition officials say they will restore Iraq's electrical capacity to its pre-war levels by the end of September. The country's electrical system was badly damaged through years of neglect and widespread looting after the war.

But with two major terrorist bombings in less than three weeks, and attacks on U.S. and coalition forces continuing, the Iraqi capital seems a city under siege.

The past week began with the sabotage of a major oil pipeline in northern Iraq, and guerillas blew a hole in a major water line in Baghdad, shutting off water to thousands. On Aug. 7, the Jordanian embassy was bombed, killing 19 people and wounding more than 60, most of them Iraqi civilians.

With such attacks on civilians increasing, the threat of terrorism has become the coalition's number one concern. Bremer and other officials have expressed serious concern about foreign fighters infiltrating into the country.

"It is too early to know," who carried out the U.N. bombing, Bremer said. Members of the former regime, foreign terrorists or a combination of the two could have carried out the attack, he said.

"As far as I can tell, all of these hypotheses are valid," Bremer said.

Bremer has called on Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council to urge Iraqis to take more responsibility for security by joining new police forces, the civil defense corps, and the new army and border guards. So far, more than 50,000 Iraqis have done so, he said.


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