| A US soldier plays with a bicycle in Falluja. (Reuters)
Baghdad, July 2 (Reuters): An American soldier died of wounds suffered in an attack in Baghdad as Iraqis, angered by a deadly blast near a mosque west of the capital, vowed today to wage holy war against US occupying forces.
US officials said their soldiers were in Iraq for the long haul, despite a sharp rise in attacks against the US-led force that ousted Saddam Hussein in April.
Britain’s foreign secretary Jack Straw made a lightning visit to Iraq as the bodies of six British soldiers killed a week ago in clashes over arms searches were flown home.
A US soldier hurt in an attack on his convoy a day earlier died of his wounds, bringing to at least 23 the number of American servicemen killed by hostile fire since major combat operations were declared over for US forces and their British allies on May 1.
Two other American soldiers were found dead in uncertain circumstances last month.
The top US administrator in Iraq is asking for more American troops and dozens of civilian officials to help speed up the restoration of order and public services, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported today.
US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld is reviewing the request submitted by Paul Bremer amid escalating anti-American sentiment and guerrilla-style attacks in the country, the newspaper said quoting unnamed US officials.
US officials have blamed a spate of attacks on highly trained members of Iraq’s former army and intelligence services loyal to Saddam.
Straw, on a regional tour, visited Basra in southern Iraq to meet top British military commanders and was due in Baghdad later in the day for talks with senior US-led administration officials.
In the town of Falluja west of Baghdad, US soldiers took to the streets hoping to convince residents they were not behind Monday night’s mosque blast, but were met by vows to drive them out of town.
“We will fight a holy war until the last drop of blood. Even boys who are 10-years-old will fight until their last drop of blood,” said a man standing at the damaged al-Hassan mosque.
Residents said the blast killed nine people, including the mosque’s imam, or prayer leader. They blamed it on an American air strike — an accusation US military officials flatly denied.
Residents of Falluja, a hotbed of Sunni anti-US sentiment, were in no mood to listen as US soldiers pressed on with their campaign to win hearts and minds.
Two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at US military vehicles in the town last night. The US army in Falluja said nobody was hurt.
Despite growing scepticism at home, US President George W. Bush insisted Washington would not let its 150,000 troops be chased from Iraq.
“The rise of Iraq, as an example of moderation and democracy and prosperity, is a massive and long-term undertaking,” Bush said.
“We will stay on the offensive against the enemy, and all who attack our troops will be met with direct and decisive force.”
Paul Bremer, head of the US-led authority running the country, blamed professional commandos from Saddam’s old power structure for attacks on US and British troops, and vowed to crush them and capture the missing ousted leader himself.
“Those few remaining individuals who have refused to fit into the new Iraq are becoming more and more desperate,” Bremer said.
“They are alienating the rest of the population.”
General Barry McCaffrey, a former four-star US army general who led a major and controversial attack during the liberation of Kuwait in 1991, said US troops might be locked into Iraq for the next decade.
“We have got a year of a very complex, dangerous, violent environment that we are going to have to deal with. We have got three huge, warring factions — the Kurds, the Shias, the Sunnis,” McCaffrey, who retired in 1996, told the BBC.