A US soldier died in a blast in Baghdad, hours after three troops were killed in the central Iraqi city of Karbala, taking to 101 US combat losses since Washington declared an end to major hostilities five months ago.
"This morning at 7:50 am (0450 GMT) one military policeman from the 220th Military Police Brigade was killed and two others were wounded in an improvised explosive device in the Baghdad area," a coalition spokeswoman told AFP on Friday.
The death took to 101 the number of US troops killed in action since President George W. Bush declared an end to major combat hostilities in Iraq on May 1, and came just hours after three other members of the US military police were killed in Karbala.
The troops and Iraqi police came under attack by bodyguards of a local cleric in the Shiite holy city, 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of Baghdad, the coalition said.
The deaths raised to 100 the number of US troops killed in action since George W. Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq (AFP/Paul. J Richards)
Spokesmen said two Iraqi policemen were killed and another five wounded, though the officer who headed the police patrol put the toll among his men at one dead and one wounded, and said the gunmen also suffered several casualties.
"Three coalition troops were killed and seven wounded," said US military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel George Krivo.
"The firefight was initiated by non-compliant forces after someone reported that a number of men were congregating with arms near the Al-Abbas mosque after curfew," he said.
Witnesses said the fighting occurred outside the residence of local cleric Mahmud al-Hassani, a few hundred meters (yards) from the mosque, one of two major Shiite holy sites in Karbala.
"We believe that the bodyguards of Hassani were involved. We don't know whether he is personally involved," said Krivo, adding that the assailants used small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
Major Ralph Manos, a spokesman for the multinational force patrolling the Karbala area, said between 20 and 30 assailants were involved in what he called an "unprovoked attack" shortly before midnight Thursday.
One of the bodyguards, Bashir Abu Ali, 42, said eight of his comrades were killed in the fighting.
Polish coalition troops surrounded the cleric's house on Friday afternoon.
The coalition imposed an overnight curfew in Karbala following clashes this week between followers of fundamentalist cleric Moqtada Sadr and other Shiites that left at least one person dead and two dozen wounded.
Manos said Hassani's men "were among the parties that took part in the clashes on Monday night among local forces."
In a separate incident, a US soldier was seriously wounded Friday near the flashpoint town of Fallujah, 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad, when his convoy was hit by an explosive device, a witness said.
There was no immediate confirmation from the US military.
The latest fatalities came as Iraq remained on a knife's edge after US forces moved for the first time against Sadr's supporters in Baghdad.
Shiite's during Friday prayers in Sadr City, the largest Shiite Muslim enclave in Baghdad, Friday Oct 17, 2003. Four American soldiers were killed and seven wounded on Friday. (AP Photo/ Kasim A Ibrahim)
American tanks remained in position on a main avenue of Sadr City, a sprawling Shiite district where Sadr draws most of his support.
Ignoring earlier warnings by local clerics that US troops would not be tolerated in the teeming neighborhood, soldiers on Thursday dislodged Sadr supporters occupying the municipal council offices, returning councilors to the building that was taken from them a week earlier.
On the political front, the European Union, deeply divided over the Iraq war, called Friday for a "realistic schedule" for the handover of power in the war-ravaged country and a "strong and vital" role for the United Nations.
The demand came after the UN Security Council unanimously approved a US resolution on Iraq's future with the support of anti-war trio France, Germany and Russia which voted in favor despite expressing reservations.
French President Jacques Chirac justified the decision to back the resolution by the need not to undermine international unity, although Paris and its anti-war partners say they will not contribute troops to a multinational force or more aid for Iraq.
Paris, Moscow and Berlin said the UN resolution was a "step in the right direction" but expressed reservations about the failure of the US plan to set out a more concrete timetable for restoring sovereignty to Iraqis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his decision not to send troops or aid, saying the new UN resolution fell short of defining a clear role for the world governing body in resolving the conflict.
In a statement after a two-day summit in Brussels, the 15-member EU pledged to "actively contribute" to drumming up reconstruction aid at an Iraq donors' conference next week -- although in terms of money it went no further than restating a Brussels pledge of 200 million euros.
Spain, host of the October 23-24 conference, said it would donate 300 million dollars to aid the reconstruction of Iraq at the gathering.
Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi met in Tokyo Friday for talks at which Koizumi was expected to reassure his guest that his government would send troops to Iraq, following a promise of 1.5 billion dollars toward rebuilding the country.
Koizumi would tell Bush of Japan's plan to send 150 troops to the southern Iraq city of Basra in December as an advance party, with an additional 550 troops to be sent early next year, Japan's top-selling daily Yomiuri Shimbun said, quoting government sources.
South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun for his part said he would actively take up a US request for his country to send combat troops to Iraq following the passage of the US-backed UN resolution.
In contrast, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said that despite the new Security Council resolution, Pakistan was not yet in a position to contribute troops to Iraq.
The US Senate late Thursday earlier dealt a blow to Bush's request for aid for Iraq, passing an amendment requiring Baghdad to pay back half of the 20 billion dollars Washington is allocating for reconstruction.
© 2003 AFP