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US contractor killed in Tikrit

Tikrit, Aug. 5 (Reuters): An American civilian contractor working with the US army in Iraq was killed today when explosives were detonated under his vehicle near Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit, the military said.

A guerrilla campaign against US forces has killed 53 American soldiers since Washington declared major combat over on May 1, but today’s attack marked the first time a US civilian had been killed in Iraq since Saddam was toppled.

A US army spokesman said the contractor was evacuated to a nearby field hospital but died of his wounds. The same day, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a police station in the restive town of Falluja, 50 km west of Baghdad. Two US soldiers were taken away in an ambulance as a crowd gathered, chanting support for Saddam. “We sacrifice our blood and our souls for you, Saddam,” they shouted. The fugitive dictator has so far evaded capture despite a $25 million price on his head.

Besides attacks on soldiers, ambushes in the last three months have also claimed the lives of a British journalist, a Sri Lankan technician for the Red Cross, and an Iraqi driver for the UN.

In Baghdad, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Iraq warned that lack of security could deter donors from providing desperately needed aid to keep the country afloat in 2004.

Ramiro Lopez da Silva said persistent insecurity and concerns about bankrolling a military occupation could make donors wary of committing funds at an October aid conference.

He said pledges of $5 billion were needed from the conference merely to keep Iraq’s creaking infrastructure and basic services from grinding to a halt next year.

Iraq needed to spend a minimum of $20 billion in 2004, and income from the ramshackle oil industry and other sources was unlikely to exceed $15 billion. Donors must supply the rest. “That is just to keep things going,” da Silva said. “If you want a qualitative leap, a quantum leap in living standards and conditions, you would need much more.”

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