It was the second death of an American soldier in two days, after an American soldier died Sunday in an accidental munitions dump explosion near the town of Diwaniya, 95 miles south of Baghdad.
The eight-vehicle convoy of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was attacked with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns while on a resupply mission near Hadithah, about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad.
A statement from the U.S. Central Command said the U.S. troops called in attack helicopters and troops to counterattack. The dead and wounded soldiers’ names were withheld until their families can be notified.
Meanwhile Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said nuclear inspectors would return to Iraq by the end of the week to ensure nuclear material stored at the Tuwaitha complex southeast of the capital remains safe.
The mission will be limited to inspecting whether Iraq is fulfilling its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and is not related to weapons inspections, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said.
In Washington, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, said he believes it’s “just a matter of time” before U.S. military forces find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
“We knew going in that a regime that had spent over a decade trying to deny and deceive the United Nations and others about its weapons of mass destruction program, that this would be very, very tough,” Myers said.
The Bush administration charged that Saddam held weapons of mass destruction and was seeking to develop more sophisticated weapons, but little has been found.
Outside Baghdad’s Palestine Hotel, about 100 former Iraqi soldiers demonstrated to protest the U.S. dismantling of the Iraqi army and the Republican Guard last week, saying the action left one million people unemployed.
L. Paul Bremer, the top civilian administrator in Iraq, said Friday that the army would be replaced by a “New Iraqi Corps” that would be “representative of all Iraqis” and not beholden to politics.
“Is this the reward for my sacrifice of my leg for the dignity and solemnity of Iraq?” Ali Karim Hassan said. “Mr. Bremer rewarded me with the dissolution of the Iraqi army, disregarding any of the rights. We are only asking for our rights as retirees.”
The protesters said their army employment should not be connected to Saddam Hussein (news – web sites)’s corrupt regime. “The army of Iraq is not the army of the tyrant Saddam,” one placard read.
The U.S. officials running Iraq since the war want a new order untainted by the past, and on Monday announced the firing of a top-ranking police official because of his Baath Party ties.
Abdul Razak al-Abbassi — who had helped U.S. forces try to recreate a police force in Baghdad — was ousted Sunday at Bremer’s order.
Bremer issued a decree earlier this month blocking up to 30,000 top members of Saddam’s Baath Party from retaining any job in a future Iraqi government. The order is especially strict for leaders of security departments.
A 33-year veteran of the force, al-Abbassi commanded the west Baghdad police force and was considered key to coaxing Baghdad’s 4,000 or so police officers to return to work and rebuild their looted station houses. But al-Abbassi was found to have had full Baath membership.
Restoring security, repairing infrastructure and feeding Iraqis are challenge enough, but officials also are tackling building democracy in a nation used to rule by force and bitterly divided along ethnic, religious and political lines.
Arabs and Turks in Iraq’s main northern oil city, Kirkuk, threatened to boycott a mayoral vote after an American general on Sunday approved six final members of a 30-member city council.
The council now is to choose a mayor, and Arabs and ethnic Turks are upset because they believe the post is certain to go to a Kurd. Arab delegates asked for a delay on the mayoral vote until Monday — a move some saw as a stalling tactic.
Irfan Kerkuklu, an ethnic Turk, was elected Monday as one of three assistant mayors and assigned the task of clearing pro-Saddam activists from the city’s public offices. Hasib Osman, a Kurd, was chosen as assistant mayor for resettlement, while a Christian was chosen as assistant mayor for government affairs.
The Kirkuk region produces almost half of Iraq’s oil. It is populated by an explosive mix of Kurds, Arabs, ethnic Turks and Christians.