BAQUBA, Iraq - A grenade attack killed three U.S. soldiers guarding a children's hospital north of Baghdad on Saturday, the latest ambush in a guerrilla war that the killing of Saddam Hussein's sons has failed to check.
A military spokesman said four soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division were wounded in the attack in Baquba, 30 miles north of Baghdad, in the "Sunni triangle" where American troops have come under frequent attack.
The fatalities brought to 47 the number of U.S. soldiers killed at enemy hands since Washington declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1. Eight have died since U.S. forces killed Saddam Hussein's sons Uday and Qusay on Tuesday.
Protesters carry a banner outside the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where Republican National Committee members held a meeting in New York Saturday, July 26, 2003. About a dozen people carried banners and signs protesting President Bush and the war in Iraq, while RNC members discussed plans for the upcoming election inside. (AP Photo/Tina Fineberg)
U.S. officers have warned of a risk of revenge attacks after the deaths of the brothers, though it is not clear whether vengeance is the motive for the assaults of the last few days.
U.S. commanders hope the fate of Uday, 39, and his 37-year-old brother Qusay will in time demoralize guerrillas, whatever the short-term response.
In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, U.S. troops braced for more bloodshed as Iraqis fighters amplified their campaign.
Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit said they were now facing attacks during the day as well as at night, and that guerrillas were increasingly bold and confident.
"Things are worse now," said Staff Sergeant Kenneth Maxwell, from Hartford, Connecticut, admitting to nerves as he held the trigger of his machinegun atop an armored vehicle.
"They used to just attack us, mostly at night. But now they are attacking us during the day with AK-47s and RPGs (rocket- propelled grenades), at any American soldiers they can find," Maxwell said, eyes alert under the baking sun.
ATTACK IN BROAD DAYLIGHT
The attack on soldiers in Baquba illustrated the danger. Residents said an attacker had thrown a grenade from the roof of the hospital in broad daylight on Saturday morning.
U.S. troops sealed off the building after the attack and barred people from leaving. Everybody inside was being photographed as part of the investigation into the assault.
Dozens of worried Iraqis with relatives in the hospital gathered outside the hospital gates.
"My wife and my baby boy are inside. I have a one-year-old daughter at home who needs her mother. We want the Americans to let them out," said one man, Mohammed Abdul Sattar.
Ali Abbas, whose sister is a nurse in the hospital, said he hated the Americans but did not support this attack. "We all agree that we need to fight the Americans," he said. "But did they really have to hit them in a children's hospital?"
U.S. officials blame Saddam loyalists for the attacks on American troops, mainly in Baghdad and the Sunni heartland to the north and west. Arab television networks have broadcast pictures of masked men with grenades and assault rifles vowing to strike back for the deaths of Uday and Qusay.
But many Iraqis resent the U.S. occupation and link the violence to anger over the way U.S. troops behave. Between 6,000 and 7,800 Iraqi civilians are believed to have been killed since the war began on March 20, though no precise toll is available. U.S. troops with bulldozers began demolishing the villa in the northern city of Mosul where the brothers were killed, after scouring it for clues on the whereabouts of their father.
The villa was wrecked when U.S. troops attacked it with machineguns, grenades and anti-tank missiles in a fierce battle that killed the pair and two others, believed to be a bodyguard and Qusay's teenage son.
The house belonged to a businessman with links to Saddam's family. U.S. officials have declined comment on speculation that it was he who betrayed Uday and Qusay in return for $30 million in reward money. Washington says it will pay, no doubt to encourage others to claim the $25 million on offer for Saddam.
After the deaths of his sons, the net might be closing, U.S. commanders say. Acting on a tip-off, they rounded up 13 men near Tikrit on Thursday night. Some were suspected of being bodyguards of Saddam, though officers said it was not certain.
"We continue to tighten the noose," 4th Infantry Division commander Major General Ray Odierno said.
Iraq's biggest selling newspaper, Azzaman, splashed color photographs of Uday and Qusay's corpses on its front page on Saturday, under a headline proclaiming the brothers were dead.
U.S. officials hope the pictures and television images of the bodies will convince skeptical Iraqis that Uday and Qusay are dead and staunch the wave of guerrilla attacks.
One issue is what will happen to the bodies. Muslim tradition demands they be buried quickly, but few in Iraq will want to see their graves become a shrine. They could be discreetly handed to clan elders in Tikrit.
Additional reporting by Mazen Dana in Mosul and Michael Georgy in Tikrit
©2003 Reuters Ltd