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Two U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq; troops withdraw from Mosque

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Two more U.S. soldiers have been killed and another wounded in continuing violence in Iraq, the military announced Sunday.

The deaths occurred when a patrol from the 4th Infantry Division was ambushed southwest of Kirkuk Saturday night. The attackers fired small arms and rocket propelled grenades at the Americans at about 8:40 p.m. Kirkuk is about 160 miles north of Baghdad.

The Task Force Ironhorse patrol returned fire, but no further contact was made with the guerilla fighters, the military said. The names of the dead were withheld pending notification of families.

The deaths brought to 103 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action since May 1.

On Sunday guerrillas also attacked a stalled convoy west of Baghdad, exploding an ammunition truck, but injuring no one.

In the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, U.S. troops overnight withdrew a dozen tanks and a large body of troops from an area near two important Shiite mosques where three U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi police officers were killed Thursday when they attempted to disarm bodyguards of a radical cleric who were violating curfew.

The attack on the stalled convoy occurred about 35 miles west of Baghdad. While no one was injured, the attack detonated an ammunition truck, setting off a spectacular blast.

The incidents were two of 15 attacks by guerilla fighters in a 24-hour period throughout Iraq. A senior U.S. official called the total "pretty low." An average of 22 attacks a day have occurred on coalition forces in recent weeks.

A senior military official said that the coalition still is determined to bring to justice those responsible for the attacks in Karbala, which occurred just before midnight on Thursday.

Coalition officials blamed the incident, in which an American lieutenant colonel was killed, the high ranking American to die since May 1, on bodyguards of cleric Mahmoud al-Hassani, one of Karbala's lesser-known ayatollahs.

But a coalition official said the incident is still being investigated that no decision has been made on whether the arrest Hassani. A key Shiite cleric said Saturday that Hassani and his remaining gunmen had fled the city.

Hassani was an associate of the father of Muqtada al Sadr, a 30-year-old cleric who also is suspected in a string of suicide bombings and attacks on U.S. soldiers in the capital city.


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