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Dozens of U.S. soldiers injured in suicide attacks

BAGHDAD, Iraq—U.S. soldiers held off suicide bombers at two military facilities in Iraq on Tuesday, while a bomb attack struck a Baghdad mosque, killing three Iraqis.

The suicide attacks injured many but failed to kill U.S. soldiers.

A suicide bomber was held off at the gate to a U.S. military base in Tal Afa, west of the northern city of Mosul. He detonated his bomb after 101st Airborne soldiers shot at the car. The early morning attack injured 58 soldiers and three Iraqis.

None of the injuries were life-threatening, but several soldiers had more serious injuries and were transported to a military hospital, a military spokesman said.

After weeks of relative quiet and fewer attacks, the bombing kicked off a day of violence.

About two hours after the attack in northern Iraq, there was an explosion in a Sunni mosque in al Huriya, a poor neighborhood in Baghdad where many Shiite Muslims live. There were conflicting reports about the cause of the 6:45 a.m. blast, which tore a 4-by-5-foot crater in a mosque wall, killed three Iraqis and inflamed tensions between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis.

As workers swept away crumbled bricks and cleared away body parts, the mosque's Sunni cleric, Sheikh Ahmed al Dabbash, blamed two prominent Shia parties and a Shiite politician for the attack. Witnesses said a rocket-propelled grenade was fired into the mosque, but Iraqi police said an explosive device under a car in the mosque detonated.

About two hours later, a suicide bomber feigning illness approached a military base near Taji, in Baghdad, on foot and detonated explosives that were strapped to his body. Two 4th Infantry Division soldiers suffered minor injuries, the military said.

Later Tuesday, an OH-58 Kiowa helicopter took fire south of Fallujah and was forced to make an emergency landing, a military spokeswoman said.

Two helicopters belonging to the 82nd Aviation Brigade had been conducting a reconnaissance and security operation, and when one was forced down about 2:30 p.m., a wingman in a second helicopter provided cover for the crew on the ground. The two pilots walked away unhurt, the military said.

In al Huriya, Sheikh Ahmed al Dabbash, who leads prayers at the Ahbab al Mustafa mosque, said two explosions were heard about 7 a.m. and that he arrived to find two cars and a generator in flames, three members of the mosque dead and two people injured.

"Somebody did this on purpose. They shot rockets from outside the mosque and they also threw explosive materials into the mosque, near to the cars and the generator," al Dabbash said.

He blamed two Shiite political parties and people close to Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress.

A spokesman for Chalabi said the comments attributed to al Dabbash sounded like Baathist propaganda and denounced them as "complete nonsense."

A Shiite cleric came to pay his respects and told a large crowd of men in the mosque compound that outsiders were causing trouble between the Sunni and Shiites in Iraq.

"I am afraid we are being pulled into a civil war. Our young people are very irritated and we can hardly control them," al Dabbash said.

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

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

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20031209 Mosul attack

Iraq

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