BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi guerrillas killed two U.S. troops and wounded five in two separate attacks yesterday, as many American soldiers expressed rising frustration over the inability to strike back at an unseen enemy and anxiety over the rising death toll.
One soldier with the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment died and three were wounded when a roadside bomb struck their convoy around 7:10 a.m. in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, a military spokesman said. A similar bomb struck a convoy in Baghdad less than 30 minutes later, killing a soldier with the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade and wounding two others.
So far, 281 American soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began March 20. More than 1,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded. Since President Bush declared May 1 that major combat was over, 143 have died. Sixty-six U.S. troops have been killed in action since the president's declaration. Seventy-seven more have died as a result of nonhostile action.
"We're a lot more paranoid now," said Spc. Bob Hockman, 30, of Memphis, Tenn., a 1st Armored Division soldier whose convoy was hit by an improvised explosive last week, injuring three. "When we first got here, you'd hear about stuff over the radio, but then it was happening to other people. Now it's beginning to happen to our people."
Because of the continuing violence, the international food relief agency Oxfam said it was pulling out its foreign staff. The Red Cross also has announced that most of its staff will leave or be reassigned to areas outside Baghdad. The withdrawal of international aid workers will compound the problems the U.S.-led Iraqi administration has in trying to restore basic services and defuse Iraqi anger at the American occupation.
Improvised explosive devices - IEDs, in military parlance - have become the weapon of choice for guerrillas who are fighting the U.S.-led occupation. Soldiers say the bombs can be practically anything from a couple of hand grenades tied together to more deadly devices consisting of artillery and mortar rounds.
The bombs can be hidden practically anywhere: in soda cans, piles of debris, dead animals and broken-down vehicles. Soldiers say the bombs have become more sophisticated in recent weeks. Instead of wire-detonated devices, guerrillas are using remote-controlled devices, and the explosives are becoming more deadly, some soldiers say.
"They can now stand off and detonate them in a way they didn't before," said Sgt. Bob Haug, a National Guardsman from St. Louis, with the 2175th Military Police Company. "Now they're starting to daisy-chain them together three and four at a time. They're getting slick over here."
Military officials say explosive devices are being used increasingly in attacks on U.S. troops along with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, which indicates tactical coordination and control. Even so, the officials blame the attacks on small bands of loyalists to the former regime and criminal gangs operating without centralized command.
Since the bombings of the Jordanian Embassy on Aug. 7, which killed 19 people, and the United Nations compound Aug. 19, which killed at least 23 and wounded more than 150, many high-ranking American officials have voiced concerns about the increasing activity by Ansar al-Islam, an al-Qaida-linked group supported by deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Islamic fighters from other countries. While they insist that these groups are operating in Iraq, they say they don't see evidence of cooperation between fighters loyal to the former regime and foreign terrorists.
Hampered by language and cultural barriers, many soldiers admit they aren't certain who they're up against, except an unseen, ruthless enemy who can strike and disappear almost at will.
"I know that when I drive through an area the same [expletive] who's waving at you during the day is probably the same [expletive] who's shooting at you at night," said Sgt. Ryan Hood, 25, of Coral Gables, Fla. "But that's just a fact of our being here."
Coalition officials blame Hussein loyalists for most of the violence. A prevailing theory is that Hussein's capture could help quell much of the resistance.
They said much the same after U.S. troops killed Hussein's sons Odai and Qusai in a raid last month.
Yesterday, the coalition began distributing wanted posters featuring Hussein and the crossed-out faces of Odai and Qusai Hussein. The posters remind Iraqis that a $25 million bounty remains on the former dictator's head.