Ten U.S. soldiers were injured Thursday in three attacks that demonstrated the increasing sophistication, organization and brazenness of guerrilla-style strikes against U.S.-led forces in Iraq, military officials said.
At least two Iraqis died and 13 were injured during the assaults, Iraqi hospital officials and witnesses said.
In the boldest attack, a midmorning explosion wounded three American soldiers as they patrolled Baghdad's busy Haifa Street in their Humvee. A U.S. military convoy raced to the scene and fired "randomly" in all directions, according to numerous witness accounts, injuring residents and enflaming a neighborhood seething over the U.S. occupation.
When the U.S. convoy sped away, neighborhood frustration and rage toward the Americans boiled over. Men and boys descended on the Humvee that had been disabled in the blast and set the vehicle ablaze, turning it into a charred carcass of melted metal amid chants of "God is greatest."
"We burned it shouting for Americans to get out of Iraq," Ahmed Hussein, 27, said as rivulets of sweat dripped down his thin face under a brutal sun.
The incident, coupled with a second explosion that injured six U.S. soldiers in Ramadi about 60 miles west of Baghdad, is part of a trend of increasing "coordination and sophistication of the attacks" against occupation forces, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of ground forces in Iraq, said.
Sanchez said an average of 13 attacks have been launched each day against occupation forces across Iraq during the last 45 days _ about 585 assaults. Besides using increasingly sophisticated explosive devices, Sanchez said, "we believe there may be regional cooperation of subversives," including Iraqis loyal to Hussein, Islamic radicals and common criminals.
Although Sanchez said the military is concerned about the attacks and the festering anti-American sentiment, he insisted, "We can handle these attacks and we are handling them on a daily basis."
The third attack occurred at 2:30 a.m. Thursday in Baghdad's Kadhimiya neighborhood, where an Iraqi gunman fired at soldiers from the 2nd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division as they conducted a "routine nighttime patrol," according to a statement by military officials. One soldier was injured. The soldiers returned fire, killing the gunman and wounding a 6-year-old boy, the statement said.
In Baqubah, 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, an explosion killed a man and wounded five in a crowd of several hundred Iraqis demonstrating peacefully against the U.S. Army's detention of the city's top Shiite cleric, Ali Abdul Kareem Madani, according to news services.
On bustling Haifa Street, there was no talk of cooperation with Americans. The explosion and resulting gunfire from U.S. troops left at least one Iraqi dead and 12 wounded. The dead man appeared to have been killed by the explosion, according to several witnesses and the doctors' examination. Several witnesses reported a second death, also caused by the explosion, but it could not be confirmed.
Two Humvees were patrolling Haifa Street when an explosion detonated in front of the second vehicle, several witnesses said. Though the Humvee was not damaged, all four tires were punctured and three passengers were injured, at least two severely, witnesses said.
In Ramadi, six U.S. soldiers from the 43rd Engineering Battalion of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment were injured when an explosive device in a median strip detonated near the Al Haq Mosque, according to U.S. military officials. The assailants had strung a wire from the explosive to a nearby parade viewing stand, witnesses said.
U.S. military officials detained two Iraqis suspected of carrying out the attack, classifying them as enemy prisoners of war, said Sgt. Gary Qalls.
In Fallujah, about 30 miles west of the capital, the U.S. commander in the area, Col. Joseph DiSalvo, said an investigation into an explosion at a mosque that killed seven people on Tuesday had not determined it was caused by people assembling bombs, as the U.S. Central Command claimed on Wednesday.
"All we can say is that the blast came from inside the building," DiSalvo said.
Lt. Col. Eric Wesley said the information in the Central Command report "did not come from us."
A U.S. military official in the city said investigators believe people inside the mosque compound were assembling explosive devices but military commanders in the city were reluctant to say so publicly because they feared enflaming tensions with local religious leaders.