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7 U.S. Soldiers in Iraq Wounded in 3 Attacks

Times Staff Writer

Assailants targeting foreign troops in Iraq are typically military-trained professionals linked to the old regime, but the attacks are not coordinated by Saddam Hussein or a single command structure, the top U.S. official here said Tuesday.

“These attacks appear to be the work of small groups of men, usually a squad-level operation,” said L. Paul Bremer III, the civil administrator for the Coalition Provisional Authority on a day in which seven U.S. troops were wounded in Baghdad and Kirkuk. “They are conducted, however, with considerable effectiveness.”

Officials have no indication that Hussein “or any one person is giving orders to these people,” Bremer said -- underscoring the decentralized nature of the daily ambushes and sniper incidents.

Even as Bremer spoke, however, audiotape said to be of Hussein’s voice aired on Arabic television stations -- the second time within a week such a tape has appeared urging resistance to the occupation forces. Much of the content broadcast Tuesday appeared identical to a tape distributed in May.

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“All Iraqis have to struggle against the foreign occupiers,” said the voice on a tape broadcast on the Al Jazeera channel. “Don’t let them rest without casualties.”

Bremer conceded that the purported messages from Hussein and the deposed strongman’s fugitive status could be helping to inspire the armed resistance.

“I would much prefer him to be under our control or dead,” Bremer said. “Having that issue unresolved gives these die-hard remnants the opportunity to say to other people: ‘Saddam is still alive. He’s going to come back.’ ”

But Bremer predicted that “the noose is going to tighten around his neck” as informants seeking a piece of a recently announced $25-million reward begin to emerge.

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“He’s not coming back,” Bremer said of Hussein. “He’s finished here. We will eventually capture or kill him.”

Ambushes and other attacks have cost the lives of at least 29 GIs since major hostilities ended May 1, according to Pentagon statistics. The stubborn, hit-and-run nature of the incidents has left many troops edgy and feeling vulnerable.

The violence continued Tuesday with three separate attacks, two of them in Baghdad.

A homemade bomb was dropped from a bridge onto a passing U.S. military convoy in the capital city, wounding two soldiers, according to Associated Press. Two more soldiers were injured when their vehicle struck a land mine in Baghdad.

In Kirkuk, about 150 miles to the north, three more soldiers were wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a military convoy, AP reported.

Most assailants appear to have military training, Bremer said at a wide-ranging Baghdad news conference. Many are former members of Hussein’s security apparatus, he said, including ex-Republican Guard soldiers, former intelligence operatives or militants of the Fedayeen Saddam, a group of Hussein loyalists.

The attacks take different forms, but Bremer said one assassination-style tactic -- sending a single gunman to fire point blank at an unsuspecting soldier -- has been used eight times. In the latest such attack, a U.S. soldier was shot and killed Sunday on the grounds of Baghdad University.

“It was conducted in such a way that we know it was conducted by somebody with military training,” Bremer said of the university shooting. “So we are seeing a certain professionalism.”

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Seeking to dissuade more attacks, authorities on Tuesday announced a new reward, of $2,500, for anyone providing information leading to the arrest of assailants who have shot or killed U.S. or British troops or Iraqi police. Authorities distributed leaflets informing the population of the reward.

The use of a reward attests to the tenacity of the guerrilla-style assaults. Most of the attacks against U.S. troops have taken place in a broad arc of central and western Iraq where the Hussein regime had considerable support and where much of the population is Sunni Muslim, like Hussein.

In Baghdad, there were more indications Tuesday that Hussein supporters are still active. Leaflets circulated in the Adamiyah neighborhood warned residents not to accept anything from the U.S.-led coalition, according to a private security source. Some residents were also being approached by members of Hussein’s Baath Party declaring, “We’re back,” the security source said.

Occupation authorities were moving to ban dark-tinted vehicle windows or window covers that obscure activity inside cars and trucks. Officials fear that opposition forces or criminals may use such vehicles to conceal themselves and their weapons.

The new audiotapes broadcast Tuesday on Al Jazeera and Lebanon’s Al Hayat that purport to contain Hussein’s voice come four days after Al Jazeera broadcast a tape that U.S. experts said was most likely the voice of the former leader.

It was not immediately clear whether the channels broadcast the same tape Tuesday. Nor was it clear that the material was new, because it resembled that on a tape the Sydney Morning Herald received in May.

“I am addressing you from inside Iraq, to fight the enemy of God and Iraq,” the voice on Al Jazeera said. “Victory is coming.”

Times staff writer John Daniszewski in Baghdad and Times wire services contributed to this report.

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