Samarra (Iraq), Dec. 1 (Reuters): American troops killed 54 guerrillas in a fierce battle to fight off coordinated ambushes on armoured convoys carrying large quantities of banknotes in the tense Iraqi town of Samarra, the US army said today.
A US soldier was also killed west of Baghdad today after insurgents attacked his patrol, the military said.
But confusion hung over the Samarra death toll, which a US military spokesman at the town earlier put at 46.
Military spokesperson Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a Baghdad news conference that 54 “enemy combatants” were killed in firefights that raged for most last afternoon in Samarra, 100 km north of Baghdad.
“In this engagement an estimated 54 enemy personnel were killed, an estimated 22 enemy were wounded, and one is in captivity,” he said.
Colonel Frederick Rudesheim, commander of the US 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team, earlier told reporters at the US base in Samarra that 46 guerrillas were killed and 11 captured.
Police said eight civilians had also been killed, including an Iranian pilgrim. Doctors said they had only seen six bodies, but Rudesheim said this did not mean US forces had misjudged the number of insurgents killed.
“The adversary we face in this area will not bring all the casualties to the local hospitals,” he said.
One policeman in Samarra, Captain Sabti Awad, said American troops fired randomly, killing and wounding civilians, after the US convoys were attacked while they delivered money to banks. Rudesheim said troops only fired aimed shots.
Rudesheim said some of the attackers wore the black clothing and headscarves of deposed President Saddam Hussein’s fidayeen militia.
Several burned-out cars littered the streets of the town, a focus of anti-US anger in the “Sunni triangle” region. Dried blood stained the dust outside a mosque.
A series of guerrilla ambushes across Iraq at the weekend killed seven Spanish intelligence agents, two South Korean contractors, two Japanese diplomats and their Iraqi driver, a Colombian contractor and two US soldiers.
The bloodshed — and grisly photographs showing Iraqis kicking the corpses of the dead Spanish agents — increased debate in countries allied to Washington on the risks of getting involved in the mission to stabilise and rebuild Iraq.
The violence underscored the growing audacity of guerrillas in Iraq — and the tougher tactics the US army has adopted in response.
November was the deadliest month for American troops since the start of the war that ousted Saddam, with at least 74 killed in action.
Occupying forces also suffered their deadliest single attack during the month, a car bombing in the southern town of Nassiriyah that killed 19 Italians and nine Iraqis.
Since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 188 US soldiers have been killed in action.
The latest US soldier to die was hit by small arms fire near Habbaniya today morning, and later died of his wounds.
In Seoul, South Korea’s foreign minister said the country would push ahead with plans to send more troops to Iraq despite the killing of the two South Korean contractors, shot in their car yesterday on the same highway where the Japanese died.
President Roh Moo-hyun called for a security review after the shooting.