Four soldiers killed in Iraq

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BAQUBA, Iraq - An unknown assailant hurled a grenade from the upper floor of a children's hospital here yesterday, killing three U.S. soldiers and wounding four as they guarded the building, according to hospital workers and visitors.

Near Abu Ghuraib, another U.S. soldier was killed yesterday and two others wounded when their convoy was attacked with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, U.S. officials said.

The bloody attacks - coming just days after U.S. troops killed Saddam Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai, in a raid in the northern city of Mosul - raised to 48 the number of U.S. troops killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared the major combat phase of the Iraq war over May 1.

The Baquba attack marked the second occasion since Bush's speech in which three U.S. soldiers were killed in a single attack. The other deadliest day occurred Thursday, when three 101st Airborne Division soldiers died from small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades while on patrol in northern Iraq. Last month, British forces lost six military police in a single firefight near Amarah, about four hours southeast of Baghdad, the capital.

"A lot of people have the sentiment that the war is over - it's not over," Pfc. Adam Gable of the 4th Infantry Division said at the Baquba hospital yesterday.

Baquba, a city an hour northeast of Baghdad, has been the site of several attacks on U.S. soldiers. Assailants burned a Humvee outside the hospital two weeks ago and lobbed a grenade at soldiers last week, but no one was hurt in either incident.

The assault yesterday on 4th Infantry Division soldiers at the hospital struck a bitter chord for soldiers because the U.S. military - after being criticized for failing to prevent the looting of hospitals, electrical substations and other institutions after Hussein's government was toppled - has shifted its focus and ordered troops to provide protection.

Now, with continuing attacks, it appeared that soldiers on guard might be especially vulnerable targets.

The Baquba attack also served as a bloody reminder that although some Iraqis are pleased by the American presence, it only takes a few people to create a lethal environment.

"They call us Ali Babas, thieves. We're not thieves. We're here to protect them and make sure everything goes right," said Higinio Nunez, a soldier from Fresno, Calif., with the 4th Infantry Division, who was guarding the hospital's entrance.

Several men in the neighborhood condemned the American presence.

"Now that Saddam Hussein is gone, they have brought freedom to Iraq; that is the operation they came to do; why are they staying now? This is the third month we are an occupied country."

But several Iraqi women defended the American presence. "In my opinion, these people are providing security for us," said Oma Mohammed, 32, who works as a clerk in the hospital and was present when the attack occurred. "They are here to serve us; they are providing security for the hospital. We shouldn't treat them like this."

At the time of the attack, the hospital was packed with patients and visitors. The nine-story building has balconies outside many rooms - an ideal perch from which to take aim. The soldiers were stationed just outside the building.

Mohammed said she was in her ground-floor office when she heard the blast. "Our office was very near the spot where it occurred. One of those who was injured, his leg was just hanging by a piece of flesh."

Several employees ran outside to take the injured into the hospital, where they were treated by Iraqi doctors until U.S. military ambulances arrived.

Each person inside was searched, questioned and fingerprinted.

Americans got high marks for their treatment from many of the Iraqis there, which was notable because there have been frequent complaints that U.S. soldiers have been offensive to Iraqis during searches.

"They put the women in one room and the men in another, and they are checking the whole body, but nobody is humiliating us," said Mundar Jaffa, 22, an assistant pharmacist.

The names of the soldiers killed in both attacks were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

In the Abu Ghuraib attack yesterday, U.S. military officials said that members of the 3rd Infantry Division were fired upon about 1 p.m. and that assailants also might have used an improvised explosive device on the highway. Three Iraqis were also wounded, U.S. officials said.

In Mosul, engineers with the 101st Airborne Division tore down the badly damaged villa where the Hussein brothers were killed Tuesday in a four-hour gunbattle with U.S. forces.

The home belonged to Sheik Nawaf al-Zaydan Muhhamad, a regional tribal leader and Hussein cousin who neighbors said tipped U.S. troops that Odai and Qusai were at his house.

The occupation administration had offered $15 million each for information leading to Hussein's sons and $25 million for Hussein.

It was believed, though not confirmed by military commanders, that Muhhamad is in protective custody.

Since the killings, the U.S. military said more informants have been coming forward with tips. And with the arrest Friday of some of Hussein's bodyguards in Tikrit, his hometown and base of power, American forces say they are closing in on the deposed dictator.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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