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Bomb kills 2 U.S. soldiers; U.S. vows to speed training of Iraqi security forces

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Two U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday as the top U.S. administrator pledged to speed up training for Iraqi security forces after one of the bloodiest weeks for American troops and Iraqi civilians in Iraq's six-month-old guerrilla war.

Chief U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III made the pledge at the end of a seven-day period that included a rocket barrage on a hotel within the coalition compound that killed a U.S. colonel and wounded 15 other people, a wave of suicide bombings in the capital that left 35 dead and 240 wounded and a series of other incidents killed at least 11 other American soldiers.

The upsurge in violence during the first week of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was marked by fears of further bombings and other terrorist attacks, but Iraqis largely ignored calls by Saddam loyalists for a "Day of Resistance" and a general strike in Baghdad.

Most students stayed home and some government workers failed to show up for their jobs out of fear of a new wave of attacks. But shopkeepers and many residents of Baghdad went about business as usual, vowing not to be swayed by terrorists seeking to cause chaos.

The U.S. military said that two soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division, based at Ft. Campbell, Ky., were killed and two others were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their vehicle in the northern city of Mosul. The deaths brought to 122 the number of U.S. troops killed by hostile fire in Iraq since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations were over.

The increasing sophistication and coordination with which insurgents are now striking U.S. soldiers have undercut claims by Bush administration and coalition officials that life is improving for ordinary Iraqis and that significant progress toward restoring order and rebuilding the country is being made.

Bremer said that speeding up the training of Iraqi security forces was part of a new "strategic clarity" that also includes accelerating the return of sovereignty to the Iraqi people and revitalizing the economy when some of the $13 billion pledged during last week's donor's conference and $15 billion in civilian spending yet to be approved by the U.S. Congress begins flowing.

Bremer said the coalition plans to have 200,000 Iraqis in the army, police, civil defense force, border guard and other security roles by next September. A coalition plan to field 27 battalions of the new Iraqi army within two years has been shortened to one year, he said. There are now about 90,000 Iraqis serving in security functions.

"It is important (Iraqis) take a central role in their own defense," Bremer said. "This is after all, their country, it is their future."

In his Saturday radio address, President Bush said the escalating attacks would not drive the United States out of Iraq the way it retreated from Lebanon and Somalia. "The terrorists and the Baathists hope to weaken our will," Bush said. "Our will cannot be shaken. We're being tested, and America and our allies will not fail."

Echoing the president, Bremer and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top coalition military commander in Iraq, said that the recent terrorist attacks had targeted ordinary civilians, not coalition forces. Though Bremer acknowledged that the "bitter-enders" were becoming more sophisticated in their attacks, he vowed that they wouldn't stop the coalition.

In Baghdad, security measures were tightened on Saturday amid fears that the call for an uprising against the Americans meant that a new round of terrorist bombings was about to begin. A sense of unease pervaded the city, underscoring the challenge for U.S. troops who must think and behave as if they're in combat while trying to convince Iraqis that things are improving.

Police put scores of squad cars, extra guards and two buses to block traffic from the street in front of the Interior Ministry. U.S. helicopters buzzed overhead for most of the day and soldiers in Bradley fighting vehicles set up positions in parts of the city.

At the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, employees were told to go home. The offices of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council were also empty, even though its new president Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, is supposed to take over this month. A spokeswoman said he was out of the country.

Despite specific threats against them, many policemen said they felt a duty to come to work.

"We are taking the highest security levels today and we will not be lazy about doing our duty. It's true that we are threatened, targeted to be hit at any moment, but this will not prevent us from coming to our ministry and doing our job. We will not sit in our houses," said Iraqi Police 1st Lt. Ameen Khazaal Khalif, 27.

Many ordinary citizens had a similar attitude. Shopkeeper Karim Gadban, 42, had thousands of dollars worth of gold and jewelry on display at his Karrada Dakhel shop, despite threats that businessmen faced death.

"I am open because I consider it a challenge to Saddam," he said, spreading out necklaces and rings. "I am proud to be open."

At his Karrada barbershop, Bashar Salim Mahmoud, 30, talked about the call for resistance with his customers.

"These actions are not for men, they are for children. They want to spread fear. It's a terrorist action and the Iraqis have nothing to do with such empty threats," Mahmoud said. "Now the whole world will think the terrorists are afraid because Iraqis have taken precautions and haven't done as they asked. They just want us to stop the rebuilding in Iraq."

Some schools were closed because teachers and students didn't show up. Those that did open saw only about 50 percent of their students and others even fewer. Mohammed Suliman, 50, a former army officer, said he kept his two children home from the al Muhyaj primary school in the al Dumia neighborhood just to be safe.

"I saw on TV these threats," he said. "Maybe I won't send them to school Sunday or Monday either. They will be happy to have the days off."

At the University of Baghdad, about a third of the students attended classes. Students said many of their colleagues stayed away because they were scared.

"These threats will not shake us," said political science major Mutaz Juad, 20. "The other students will return. We are used to this kind of thing."


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

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ