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U.S. Troops and Iraqis Killed in Separate Attacks

Insurgents fired mortars and rockets at a U.S. base late Wednesday, killing two soldiers in one of several recent attacks in the volatile Sunni Triangle.

Also on Wednesday, gunmen killed four people in the ambush of a vehicle carrying Iraqi women who worked in the laundry at a U.S. military base.

In a separate attack, two Iraqi policemen died Thursday when a checkpoint between Fallujah and Ramadi came under fire. Reuters reported that a civilian was also killed in the incident.

A Spanish Civil Guard police commander was shot in the head and seriously wounded early Thursday morning during a raid south of Baghdad.

The attack on the U.S. base occurred near Baquba, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, a U.S. military spokeswoman in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit said.

“Last evening, we had a mortar attack on a forward operating base near Baquba which killed two soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division and critically wounded another,” Major Josslyn Aberle told reporters.

The two deaths brought the number of U.S. soldiers killed in action in Iraq since the war began to 349. Including non-combat deaths, the toll is 505.

“We were able to identify where the attack came from and responded by firing artillery shells at the location,” Aberle said. “There are no indications, however, that any insurgents were killed in our assault.”

The attack on the laundry workers took place 40 miles west of Baghdad in Fallujah where the nine women were being driven to work, Khajiq Serkis, the driver who was also wounded, told the Associated Press.

From his hospital bed, he said gunmen shot the tires in his minibus before firing indiscriminately at the occupants.

Four women were killed and the other five were injured in addition to Serkis, police Col. Sabbar Fadhel told the AP.

According to police, the Iraqi women were Christians who lived in Baghdad and were taken every day to the base west of the capital. Buses carrying the women had been shot at before, they told Reuters.

Despite the recent attacks, a U.S. commander in the Iraqi city of Tikrit told reporters Thursday that “the former regime elements we’ve been combating have been brought to their knees.”

Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, said Saddam’s Dec. 13 capture dealt a significant blow to the insurgency. He also warned that although the former Baath Party loyalists are no longer a major threat, the nature of the anti-American violence could shift and become fueled by a nationalistic motive to get U.S. troops to leave.

Odierno defined the nationalistic threat as “those that really just want Iraqis to run their own country” and “elements that are going to try to use Iraqi nationalism to say we need to get the Americans and the coalition forces out of Iraq.”

The general’s comments come as Washington seeks to hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi government by July 1, well before Iraqi elections that would not take place until 2005 under the U.S. plan.

That plan has run into opposition from Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, whose demand for early elections has found wide support among Iraqis.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said he is considering sending a team to Iraq to assess whether elections can be held before July 1.

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