By Associated Press
A military patrol and two convoys are attacked, spurring a gunbattle in an increasingly tense area.
TIKRIT, Iraq - Attackers ambushed a U.S. military patrol late Thursday, killing three American soldiers and wounding two on the outskirts of Saddam Hussein's hometown.
The assault near Tikrit came hours after insurgents ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs, opening a three-hour gunbattle in a volatile city 50 miles west of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said two soldiers were wounded in the Khaldiyah ambush, the latest in a string of attacks that has raised questions about the Bush administration's handling of post-war Iraq.
The three soldiers from the Army's 4th Infantry Division were killed when attackers fired with small arms in the village of Al-Ouja, 5 miles south of the center of Tikrit, shortly before midnight Thursday, Lt. Col. William McDonald said.
The wounded soldiers were evacuated to a medical treatment facility and the names of those killed were withheld pending notification of relatives, he said.
The soldiers were part of a patrol investigating a suspected site used to launch rocket propelled grenades, or RPG's, at American military convoys. The weapons have been used to launch repeated attacks against the U.S. military in and around Tikrit.
Earlier Thursday, insurgents ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs and fired on one of them, unleashing a three-hour gunbattle in the city of Khaldiyah, about 50 miles west of Baghdad. The U.S. military said two soldiers were wounded.
Five U.S. tanks, two Bradley fighting vehicles and 40 troops surrounded the neighborhood from which gunmen fired after the first roadside bomb exploded. Helicopters hovered above.
Initially, as U.S. forces took fire, the soldiers shot back with no obvious targets in an apparent effort to protect themselves until reinforcements arrived, a witness said.
Al-Arabiya television reported eight Americans were killed and one wounded in the initial ambush about 3 p.m. The U.S. military did not confirm any deaths. Khaldiyah residents said U.S. soldiers were killed but could not agree on how many.
Shortly afterward and 9 miles to the west, a second roadside bomb hit a military convoy of three Humvees and a truck. One Humvee was engulfed in flames.
As U.S. troops withdrew from the "Sunni Triangle" region at nightfall Thursday, Khaldiyah residents danced in the streets carrying a poster of Saddam Hussein in military fatigues. They fired Kalashnikov assault rifles in the air and chanted: "With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam."
The region north and west of Baghdad, including the especially dangerous cities of Fallujah and Ramadi with Khaldiyah in between, is a stronghold of Hussein loyalists who have carried out bloody assaults on American forces daily and with increasing sophistication.
About 20 miles to the east of Khaldiyah, a nervous American patrol shot at a wedding party in Fallujah late Wednesday, killing a 14-year-old boy and wounding six people after mistaking celebratory gunfire for an attack, witnesses said.
Witnesses said guests at the wedding party shot guns into the air in celebration, and passing American troops in Humvees, apparently believing they were under attack, returned fire.
North of Baghdad, fire raged at an oil pipeline after an explosion at the site, the U.S. military said. Residents said it was the latest in a series of sabotage attacks. The military said the fire was so fierce that investigators could not get close to determine its cause.