BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. artillery pounded suspected guerrilla positions in southern Baghdad yesterday for the fourth consecutive night, and two more U.S. soldiers were killed in enemy attacks, the military said.
Yesterday's deaths were the seventh and eighth since Wednesday in what U.S. officials feared would be a Christmastime offensive by insurgents determined to show that their fight continues despite the capture two weeks ago of Iraq's former president, Saddam Hussein.
A soldier from the army's 4th Infantry Division was killed yesterday when his convoy hit a roadside bomb near the town of Baqubah, 25 miles north of Baghdad. In the same area, another soldier was killed when a similar explosive device that he was trying to defuse detonated, military officials said.
Roadside bombs, often concealed in trash, discarded vehicle parts or dead animals, have become the weapon of choice of Iraqi guerrillas battling the U.S.-led occupation.
More than 465 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the war began March 20.
Baqubah is a Sunni-dominated hotbed of insurgent activity, part of the central area of Iraq that was Hussein's power base. On Thursday, two soldiers were killed when their camp in Baqubah was shelled.
Three soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were wounded in a convoy yesterday by small-arms fire in the northern city of Mosul.
Also in Mosul, a prominent journalist and former member of Hussein's outlawed Baath Party was shot to death as he left Friday prayers at a mosque. Talal Khalidi and his son Saad were killed in what appears to be a continuation of politically motivated killings aimed at settling scores or exacting revenge.
Several former Baathists and their Shiite rivals have been killed since the collapse of the Hussein regime.
In Baghdad, spokesmen said the U.S. military was pressing ahead with its hunting, killing or capturing of insurgents.
Large explosions reverberated over the city well before dusk yesterday and into the night as U.S. helicopters fired cannon and other artillery. Most of the blasts on previous days have caused little damage and seemed designed as a show of force. On Wednesday night, for example, most of the targets were empty fields that the U.S. military said had been used as firing positions by guerrillas armed with rocket launchers.
The Army said that in the past 24 hours in Baghdad its forces captured 21 "significant" associates of Hussein, including "known bomb-makers," insurgent cell leaders and planners.
Troops have seized 60 122 mm rockets, bomb-making materials and, in Ramadi, three surface-to-air missiles with the potential to bring down aircraft.
Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division captured five men they suspect fired rockets into the Baghdad headquarters of the U.S. occupation authority late Thursday. The blasts caused neither injury nor damage but jolted the vast compound and underlined its vulnerability.
The attack on the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters was one in a string of grenade and mortar hits on embassies, hotels used by foreign journalists and contractors, and other targets. The barrage appeared to be meant to display the insurgents' agility and ability more than their firepower.
Yesterday, Japan sent to Iraq a small advance team of air force officers ahead of its planned deployment of 1,000 noncombat troops. This will be the largest Japanese military operation since World War II.
Japan's constitution imposes strict rules on its armed forces' involvement in wars.
To underscore the government's assurances that its troops will not be placed in harm's way, the officers leaving Tokyo yesterday wore blazers and slacks instead of uniforms. The Japanese mission is meant to be purely humanitarian.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.