U.S. Troops Open Fire on Iraqi Bus, Killing 3

Times Staff Writer

American troops opened fire on a bus carrying Iraqis in Ramadi, killing three people in an incident the U.S. military described as self-defense.

In a separate incident, military officials announced today that a U.S. soldier died late Sunday night from an insurgent attack in Baghdad. The military, in a statement, declined to provide more details, but the death brings to 1,217 the number of Americans killed in the war.

And a Sunni cleric, who belonged to a group that called for a boycott of national elections on Jan. 30, was shot to death by gunmen today. Sheik Faidh Mohamed Amin, who was a member of the Assn. of Muslim Scholars, was attacked in his home in the northern city of Mosul.

The attack on the bus occurred on a day when an insurgent ambush on an Iraqi national guard convoy in Ramadi left nine soldiers dead and six wounded.

The persistent violence, especially in the tumultuous so-called Sunni Triangle, has fanned reports that parliamentary elections scheduled for January will have to be postponed. But Sunday, the U.N.-appointed electoral commission sought to put that speculation to rest, setting Jan.30 as election day.

Hussein Hindawi, chairman of the commission, said that to delay the vote would "open the door to the unknown" and jeopardize the integrity of the process of drafting and ratifying a permanent constitution before selecting a new government.

Since the U.S. offensive in Fallouja this month, insurgents have stepped up their attacks in Ramadi, a city about 60 miles west of Baghdad, and many other areas.

A U.S. military statement on the bus shooting said the vehicle swerved toward Marines at a checkpoint and that the driver "ignored a verbal warning and several warning shots."

The Marines opened fire "to protect themselves and the integrity of the checkpoint," the statement said. More details of the shooting were not available, and the military's account could not be independently verified.

The killing of the national guardsmen in Ramadi occurred when their convoy was attacked by masked gunmen in broad daylight on a public street. Reuters news agency quoted survivors as saying the gunmen forced the Iraqi servicemen to drive to the outskirts of the city before killing them.

In Baghdad, the cousin of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was freed by kidnappers, according to Al Arabiya television.

Ghazi Allawi, 75, was taken hostage Nov. 9 along with his wife and pregnant daughter-in-law. The women were both set free five days later.

After the recapture of Fallouja by American troops and Iraqi security forces, U.S. and Iraqi efforts at restoring security are expected to shift to neighboring communities in the country's tense Sunni heartland and areas where escaping insurgents may have fled.

Also in Mosul, where militants have fought running battles with U.S. and Iraqi troops for more than a week, the bodies of three men fatally shot by insurgents were found on a street.

A combined force of nearly 3,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops successfully reestablished control of Mosul's bridges and police stations last week, but insurgents have targeted and executed groups of Iraqi guardsmen.

The three bodies discovered on Sunday lay near scraps of paper identifying them as peshmerga, or Kurdish militiamen who have formed the backbone of the fledgling Iraqi national guard.

Sunday's discovery came a day after the bodies of nine Iraqi guardsmen were found, all shot execution-style.

U.S. troops fanned out in the neighborhoods of Yarmouk and Zuhour, two insurgent strongholds. Armored vehicles parked near police stations that insurgents had previously overrun. U.S. patrols moved through the streets and traffic police were visible at some intersections, but schools remained closed.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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