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Two US soldiers killed in Tikrit

Attacks on US soldiers in Iraq on the increase as key date for handing back sovereignty to Iraqis looms.

By Deborah Haynes - BAGHDAD

Two US soldiers were killed and five badly wounded in a bomb blast in northern Iraq Saturday, as officials warned of more suicide attacks as the date for handing back sovereignty approaches.


Separately, an Iraqi died and three were injured in a road accident in central Iraq after their lorry was hit by a US army vehicle, local police said.


Away from the violence, Washington doled out more coveted reconstruction contracts in Iraq to US companies.


In an early morning ambush, a US convoy on patrol in Tikrit, 180 kilometres (120 miles) north of Baghdad was hit by a roadside bomb and shot at by unknown attackers, a senior US military official said.


"We had two coalition soldiers killed and five coalition soldiers wounded," the official said.


"I don't have any update on the status of the wounded in action right now but there is a potential that some of the wounded may pass away from their wounds," he told reporters in Baghdad.


None of the attackers was killed, and there was no information of any arrests after the ambush, in a city that was the stronghold of former president Saddam Hussein, the official said, on condition that he not be named.


The soldiers were from the 1st Battalion 18th Infantry Regiment, US Captain Tim Crowe, who is based in Tikrit, said.


Homemade and roadside bombs, the single biggest killer of US military personnel in Iraq, are often disguised in the carcass of a dead animal such as a dog to avoid raising the suspicion of people driving past.


Added to an official Pentagon tally, the deaths raise to 270 the number of US soldiers killed in action since US President George W. Bush declared major hostilities over on May 1.


Iraqis are also affected. Another roadside bomb exploded on Saturday morning in Baquba, 60 kilometres (36 miles) northeast of Baghdad, as a US convoy passed, police said.


The blast near a gas station, failed to injure any US soldiers, but five Iraqis were hurt.


The senior official warned that attacks aimed at derailing Iraq's transition to democracy would increase as the US-led coalition prepares to transfer sovereignty to an Iraqi caretaker government at the end of June.


"Sadly our estimates and our predictions are bearing out," he told reporters.


In August, September and October there were up to two suicide attacks a month, but in February there were about five, according to the official.


"The old saying kill one, terrorise a thousand is clearly in the battle plan," he said.


The coalition would do everything possible to prevent further bombing campaigns, but the official warned that it was impossible to stop everything.


Meanwhile, a US military vehicle hit an Iraqi lorry transporting blocks of cement just outside Baquba, said local police Captain Ali Hussein.


The US Army was unable to provide any information on the accident.


Hussein said one of three US vehicles hit the lorry killing one Iraqi worker and injuring three, who were taken to a nearby hospital.


"The Americans said they would compensate the Iraqi workers for the death, injury and also damage incurred to their lorry," Hussein said.


Meanwhile, an investigation is continuing into the mob-style killing of two US government staffers and their Iraqi interpreter after a US official admitted that four men arrested were in fact police and not imposters.


Meanwhile, the Pentagon awarded contracts worth up to one billion dollars to two US companies Friday for building projects related to electric power services, in the latest installment in a series of long-awaited reconstruction deals to total up to five billion dollars.


They came a day after the Pentagon awarded two other Iraq reconstruction contracts worth up to 1.1 billion dollars to US and British firms.


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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