Bomb traps in Iraq kill 3 U.S. soldiers

American troops called in to break up at least 2 protest demonstrations

October 08, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Three U.S. soldiers were killed in two attacks near the Iraqi capital, U.S. officials announced yesterday, the most serious incidents during a 24-hour period in which U.S. troops also were called on to quell a violent protest outside the gates of the ruling Coalition Provisional Authority and to confront demonstrators near a mosque in southwest Baghdad.

The three U.S. soldiers died late Monday. One, a member of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, was killed when his vehicle struck a homemade bomb west of Baghdad about 9:50 p.m. The others, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, were killed about an hour later when their vehicle struck a bomb in the town of Haswah, 35 miles south of Baghdad. An Iraqi interpreter also was killed in that attack, military officials said.

The deaths brought to 91 the number of soldiers killed in action since President Bush declared May 1 that major combat operations in the war were over.

Yesterday, more than 2,000 former officers of Saddam Hussein's disbanded Mukhabarat intelligence service gathered outside Hussein's former Republican Palace, where U.S. officials have the headquarters for their provisional government, demanding jobs and stipends.

Iraqi police fired on the crowd after someone in it threw a hand grenade at the nearby Foreign Ministry. American troops from the 1st Armored Division were summoned. They forced the demonstrators from the area and blocked off nearby streets. A military spokeswoman said she had no information on how many Iraqis were killed or wounded in the incident.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops clashed briefly with a group of Shiite Muslim militiamen near the Ali Kazem al Bayai mosque in southwestern Baghdad after a group of 1,000 protesters staged a sit-in on an adjacent highway, shutting down traffic on one of the capital's busiest thoroughfares for most of the day. Military officials said they had no information on the incident or whether there were casualties on either side.

The demonstrators were protesting the arrest of a cleric, Sheik Moayed al Khazraji, detained Monday after Iraqi police said they had found weapons in the mosque. U.S. forces also accused Khazraji of harboring foreign fighters in the mosque, a charge demonstrators said was false. Khazraji is associated with Moqtada al Sadr, a radical young Shiite cleric who has called on followers to resist coalition forces and the U.S.-backed Governing Council.

The crowd appeared to be unarmed when a group of about 500 took up positions on a busy highway in front of the mosque.

As word of the demonstration spread, busloads of other demonstrators arrived, swelling the crowd to more than 1,000. Entreaties by coalition military officers to end the demonstration failed.

About 4 p.m., two sport utility vehicles with coalition personnel inside drove toward the protest, then veered into an adjacent neighborhood. Some demonstrators raced toward the neighborhood, following the vehicles.

Shooting erupted a few minutes later. Three or four grenades exploded. Helicopters swooped in low over the area. The shooting went on for 15 to 20 minutes.

Later, U.S. armored vehicles arrived and forced the demonstrators off the highway.

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