Also wounded in the attack were five U.S. soldiers and a civilian traveling with them.
Guerrilla fighters using mortars, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades staged simultaneous attacks on American convoys in Samarra, which lies between Baghdad and Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, the U.S. military reported.
“The 4th Infantry Division repelled multiple ambush attacks,” Lt. Col. William MacDonald told reporters, adding that U.S. troops wounded 18 Iraqis and captured eight. Also wounded in the attack were five U.S. soldiers and a civilian traveling with them.
“In all of the clashes coalition firepower overwhelmed the attackers resulting in significant enemy losses,” MacDonald said. “If you attempt to attack one of our convoys we’re going to use our firepower to stop that attack.”
Capt. Andy Deponai, whose company took part in the fighting, said the guerrillas had deployed about 30 to 40 fighters at each ambush site.
Col. Frederick Rudesheim said the American convoys were on a mission to deliver currency to banks when the coordinated ambushes took place.
“That was a given location that they knew we would go to,” Rudesheim said. “This was done in a concerted fashion.”
Rudesheim also said some of the attackers wore the black clothing and headscarves of Saddam’s Fedayeen militia.
The U.S. military initially said 46 Iraqi fighters died, but Monday’s statement raised the number of Iraqi dead to 54.
Military officials in Baghdad said Sunday’s fighting was the most deadly reported attack since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1. U.S. officials have only sporadically released figures on Iraqi casualties and would not say whether there has been a deadlier unreported firefight.
Doctors at the town’s hospital said they knew of only six people killed in Sunday afternoon’s fighting, according to Reuters. Police put the death toll at eight, including an Iranian pilgrim.
The United States emphasized that hospital tallies may not accurately reflect the actual number of dead and injured.
“I caution you again, the adversary we face in this area will not bring all the casualties to the local hospitals,” Rudesheim said.
Many residents told the Associated Press that loyalists attacked the Americans, but that when U.S. forces began firing at random, civilians got their guns and joined the fight. Many Iraqis told the AP that residents were bitter about recent U.S. raids conducted during the night.
“Why do they arrest people when they’re in their homes?” asked Athir Abdul Salam, a 19-year-old student. “They come at night to arrest people. So what do they expect those people to do?”
Sunday afternoon’s fighting was a violent end to a weekend that saw attacks on foreigners working with the coalition authority kill seven Spanish intelligence officers, two Japanese diplomats, two South Korean civilian contractors and a Colombian oil worker.
November was the deadliest month for American troops since the start of the war in Iraq, with at least 74 soldiers killed in action. Occupying forces also suffered their deadliest single attack during the month, a car bombing that killed 19 Italians and nine Iraqis.
Sunday’s ambushes were followed by the death of an American soldier in Iraq on Monday after his patrol came under attack from insurgents, the U.S. military said.