| A US military policeman holds explosives found in a dawn raid in Khaldiya, 80 km west of Baghdad. (Reuters)
Baghdad, June 17 (Reuters): A US soldier died today after being shot in the back by a sniper while on patrol in the lawless streets of Baghdad, the latest in a series of deadly ambushes that have plagued US troops trying to police Iraq.
After the shooting and two mysterious explosions in the city, scores of heavily armed US troops swept through central Baghdad, sealing off roads and searching houses. At least 41 soldiers have been killed by hostile action since May 1, when President George W. Bush declared major combat operations over in Iraq. The US military blames the attacks on guerrillas loyal to ousted leader Saddam Hussein.
“The soldier, who was taking part in a patrol, was sitting in a military vehicle when he was struck in the back by a small calibre bullet,” a US army statement said. It said he was given urgent medical treatment but died early today.
In a separate incident overnight, a car exploded in western Baghdad, and residents said a woman and young girl had been killed. They said the blast happened at an intersection where US troops were manning a checkpoint earlier in the day.
There was no explanation for what caused the blast but one US officer said it was a suspected car bomb and that two soldiers had been hurt. A military spokesperson said the reports were being checked but could not yet be confirmed.
The red Volkswagen Passat was torn apart by the explosion, with its roof sheared off and its interior shredded.
Earlier yesterday, a car was destroyed in a blast as it drove through a tunnel in central Baghdad. Two Iraqis were wounded. US troops and Iraqi police said the explosion was probably caused by a landmine planted there. US convoys pass through the tunnel several times a day.
At dawn today, troops blocked streets with armoured vehicles and searched houses in Baghdad across the Tigris river from the sprawling Republican Guard palace complex, which once housed some of Saddam’s elite forces and is now home to the US-led administration.
One woman told soldiers that several people in the district were former supporters of Saddam’s Baath party. “Six or seven houses in my street are inhabited by Baathists. They have machineguns and other weapons,” she said. “They shoot in the air at night and we can’t sleep.”
Soldiers said they had seized several weapons during house- to-house searches. A two-week amnesty for Iraqis to hand in heavy weapons ended on Sunday. Anyone caught with illegal firearms now faces a fine and up to a year in jail.
US forces launched a new mission on Sunday, Operation Desert Scorpion, to hunt for pro-Saddam guerrillas. By late yesterday, 156 people had been arrested in Baghdad, where troops seized scores of weapons, and 215 more in Kirkuk and Saddam’s home town of Tikrit, US Central Command said. Troops also performed “humanitarian fuel escort missions”.
The US military says Operation Desert Scorpion aims to win hearts and minds as well as hunt die-hard Saddam loyalists. The mission involves humanitarian aid as well as raids. But many Iraqis say US raids have been heavy-handed, with houses ransacked and civilians assaulted. Many say they want occupying forces to leave Iraq as soon as possible.
There has been no word on the fate of Saddam since the war, but a team of animal welfare experts said 16 of his thoroughbred Arabian racehorses had been rescued and returned to an equestrian club where they could be properly cared for.