Shootings of three US soldiers mark escalation of resistance

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The Independent Online

Three American soldiers were killed in separate attacks in Iraq in the last 24 hours amid signs that many Iraqis approve of the killing of the occupying soldiers.

One died in a firefight late last night Sunday after two armed men opened fire on a US Army convoy. In the second incident, insurgents threw a homemade bomb at another convoy early today killing a soldier. Both were from the 1st Armored Division, the Germany-based division which is charged with occupying Baghdad.

In the third incident a soldier was shot in the neck and killed yesterday as he queued to buy a soft drink at Baghdad University. An Iraqi man came up to him and said "Hello mister", drew a pistol from his pocket and fired.

There were shouts of "Allahu akbar" (God is great) from a crowd as the badly injured soldier was driven away from the university campus. He died at a military hospital near by.

And late last night there was a further attack on US troops, who were ambushed with rocket-propelled grenades in the town of Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad.

Attacks on US soldiers are becoming increasingly frequent and are now taking place in the capital and other cities where previously there had been little resistance to the occupation.

Over the past week, attacks ­ while still sporadic ­ have shown greater sophistication. On Thursday, a US base north of Baghdad was hit by four mortar rounds, wounding 18 soldiers, two seriously. There were also reports of casualties in last night's attack in Ramadi, but a US military spokeman said he did not know how many or the severity of the injuries.

Ramadi was also the scene an attack on Saturday in which seven Iraqi policemen were killed by a timed bomb, and 50 were injured as they marched down the street. Meanwhile in Baghdad a soldier was shot dead by a sniper as he stood guard outside the national museum in Baghdad.

Paul Bremer, the US chief administrator in Baghdad, has blamed remnants of the old regime who are still loyal to Saddam Hussein. He said they were "desperate men" who had no place in the new Iraq.

The occupation administration, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), is clearly worried by the pin-prick attacks and does not know how best to respond. Heavy battle tanks and armoured vehicles guard US positions around Baghdad but these are of little use against a pistol fired directly at soldiers. American forces said they killed two men who fired a rocket-propelled grenade as they drove towards a checkpoint in the capital yesterday.

In Abu Sada al-Sagra, 40 miles north-east of Baghdad, an RPG was fired into a US compound, injuring one soldier. The US Army responded with sweep operations, deploying thousands of troops in the countryside. A seven-day operation called "Sidewinder" has just ended north of Baghdad, with the US military announcing it had detained 282 people and confiscated hundreds of weapons. But Iraqi farmers say the Americans often do not realise that many Iraqis traditionally possess arms and often carry them because of feared looters. The US Army said 30 Iraqis were killed in the operation and 28 of its soldiers wounded.

The hostility to the occupation stems primarily from the CPA's failure to restore law and order and to provide water and electricity. The collapse of government has seriously damaged the economy because the state was the biggest employer.

The weakness of the US position is that it does not have any important allies in Iraq outside Kurdistan. The CPA is trying to change this by nominating a Council of Governance this month. The council will have about 30 members and will appoint 22 ministers.

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