FALLUJAH, Iraq - Rocket-propelled grenades slammed into U.S. military vehicles in two attacks in and around Baghdad on Tuesday, and an explosion at a mosque in the town of Fallujah killed 10 Iraqis and injured four others. Meanwhile, attackers gunned down the head of Saddam Hussein's tribe while he rode in a car in Tikrit, the regional governor said Tuesday.
Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khattab, leader of Saddam's Bani al-Nasiri tribe, recently disavowed the ousted dictator. Al-Khattab's son was wounded during the attack, which occurred on Sunday, said the governor, Hussein al-Jubouri.
A U.S. soldier examines a destroyed U.S. military vehicle in the Mustansiryah district of Baghdad Tuesday July 1, 2003. The vehicle was allegedly hit by a rocket propelled-grenade. Military spokesmen in Baghdad said it was still unclear if any U.S personnel were killed. (AP Photo/Denis Doyle)
Appointed by Saddam as tribal chief, al-Khattab remained close to the dictator during his 35-year rule. But after the U.S.-led invasion, he publicly disavowed Saddam in the presence of local leaders and American troops, residents said.
Al-Khattab "had many enemies and he had confiscated a lot of properties and killed many people," the governor said.
"The person who killed him could have taken revenge," al-Jubouri added.
No arrests have been made. The assailants had been riding in a pickup truck when they shot al-Khattab and fled the scene, residents said.
Saddam grew up in Tikrit and maintained close ties to the town. He lavished largesse on Tikrit and many residents owed him favors.
Unlike other places in Iraq, the ousted dictator still enjoys a degree of popularity here and pro-Saddam graffiti can still be seen. Al-Khattab's killing, however, suggests the town is divided.
People in Tikrit said some were angry at al-Khattab for his close ties to Saddam and others were upset over his decision to disavow the ex-dictator.
The announcement of the tribe leader's killing comes in the wake of Monday's mosque explosion and the grenade attacks Tuesday on U.S. military vehicles.
Iraqis in Fallujah sifted through the rubble for evidence that the explosion was caused by a missile or bomb strike, but American soldiers at the scene disputed that account, saying it was likely caused when explosives hidden at the site went off.
Iraqi witnesses to Tuesday's grenade attack said assailants traveling in a vehicle in the Mustansiryah neighborhood of central Baghdad fired a rocket propelled-grenade at a U.S. military vehicle, destroying it and likely causing casualties.
Ali Ibrahim Shakir, 19, said he saw two U.S. soldiers being evacuated onto stretchers. He said he could not tell if the soldiers were hurt or killed.
A Mercedes traveling alongside the U.S. vehicle was also hit, wounding the Iraqi civilian driver, said witness Mohammed Abdullah. American military spokesmen in Baghdad said they had no immediate information.
Also Tuesday, witnesses said another rocket-propelled grenade slammed into a U.S. truck on a road 12 miles south of Baghdad. The witnesses said that attack caused four casualties but there was no immediate confirmation from the military.
A huge explosion over the weekend at an ammunitions depot killed at least 15 people and injured at least four near Hadithah, 150 miles northwest of Baghdad, officials said Tuesday.
Metal scavengers dismantled 155 mm artillery rounds, spreading gun powder on the ground at the depot, which housed old Iraqi artillery. A spark there on Saturday set off massive explosions, local officials said.
Hadithah policeman Lt. Saad Aziz said there was a large pile of TNT explosives at the depot, and people were smoking there.
"This kind of TNT is very sensitive to heat. A small spark could set the whole thing off," he said.
Abdul Aziz Thalaj, 55, said he and two nephews went to the depot to get scrap metal to sell.
"I was amazed. I found live artillery ammunition. I felt this kind of work is very dangerous," he said from a hospital in Hadithah, his feet covered in gauze and his shoulder and arm badly burned.
Mohammed Nayil Assaf, Hadithah's mayor, put the death toll at 25 and the injured toll at 6. He said there was a large amount of ammunition stored in the area and insisted U.S. troops had been guarding it only sporadically.
"It was a tragic day for Hadithah," he told the AP outside the town hall, near a 3-foot-high pile of shell casings seized from looters after Saturday's explosion.
In Fallujah, witnesses said the blast took place just before 11 p.m. Monday in a small cinderblock building in the courtyard of the al-Hassan mosque. The explosion blew out the walls and took down the roof.
A U.S. Army military police vehicle passes by the site where a blast killed ten Iraqis and damaged a mosque overnight in Fallujah, July 1, 2003. Responding to suggestions that it was a U.S. air attack and that it killed Muslim clerics, a U.S. military spokesman said he was unaware of operations at the time in the town 50 km (30 miles) west of Baghdad, and did not know what caused the blast. Two separate attacks also inflicted U.S. military casualties in Baghdad on Tuesday. REUTERS/Faleh Kheiber
Hours after the explosion, dozens of people gathered around the destroyed mosque shouting anti-American slogans.
"There is no God but Allah, America is the enemy of God," they chanted, as a crane lifted pieces of concrete from the site. An eyewitness said that after the evening prayer, he heard aircraft overhead and then heard an explosion.
On Tuesday morning, about a dozen Iraqis searched the rubble for pieces of metal they said would prove an American attack caused the damage.
"These are pieces of a missile," said Aqeel Ibrahim Ali, 26, holding a box of metal shards. "An airplane shot a missile."
But Sgt. Thomas McMurtry, a reservist with the 346th Tactical Psychological Operations Company, said there was no evidence a U.S. attack caused the explosion.
"They did it to themselves. Clearly, the physical evidence does not support that (a missile strike) in any way," he told The Associated Press. "Whatever blew up was just sitting inside there. There is no evidence that it was anything else but a ground based explosive.
McMurtry, a schoolteacher based in Dayton, Ohio who said he is a former special forces engineer with munitions training, said that if a bomb or missile caused the explosion, there would be shrapnel. He said U.S. army ordnance disposal personnel saw no sign of a missile strike.
Col. Guy Shields, spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said 10 Iraqis were killed and four others were wounded.
Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, has been a hotbed of anti-American activity and scene of several confrontations involving U.S. troops.
On Tuesday, a U.S. sweep against remaining pockets of resistance in the so-called "Sunni triangle" north and east of Baghdad, entered its third day. Troops detained six people, including a colonel from Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, a military statement said.
U.S. troops have been increasingly targeted in recent weeks, raising fears their mission faces a guerrilla-style insurgency.
At least 20 American and six British troops have been killed by hostile fire since President Bush declared the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.
The total killed includes Sgt. 1st Class Gladimir Philippe, 37, of Roselle, N.J., and Pfc. Kevin Ott, 27, of Columbus, Ohio, whose remains were found 20 miles northwest of Baghdad over the weekend. The Pentagon on Monday listed them as killed in action.
In other news, American troops arrested the U.S.-appointed mayor of the southern town of Najaf, 110 miles southwest of Baghdad, on kidnapping and corruption charges. They also detained 62 of his aides - a step likely to please Najaf's Shiite residents.
The arrest came less than three months after U.S. troops installed the mayor, Abu Haydar Abdul Mun'im. The ex-Iraqi army colonel was unpopular because of his background in Saddam's military.
Abdul Mun'im was replaced by Haydar Mahdi Mattar al Mayali, a former deputy in the mayor's office.
One of the country's top Shiite clerics, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, issued a fatwa, or religious ruling, this week, denouncing U.S. plans to appoint a council to draft a new constitution. The statement demanded elections so Iraqis can elect their own constitutional convention.
Al-Sistani, one of Iraq's most influential people, had been largely supportive of American interests since Saddam's ouster.
Al-Sistani and another senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, said on Monday that they favored a peaceful end to the U.S. occupation, and its replacement by a representative Iraqi government.
"What we want is the formation of a government that represents the will of the Iraqi people, by all its sects and ethnic groups," said al-Sistani.
© 2003 The Associated Press