Iraq: U.S. Troops On Alert

U.S. troops secure the area after explosives went off in Baghdad's Palestine street Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2003. At least two people were reported injured in the blasts. AP

On New Year's Eve, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police stepped up security in Baghdad, erecting more razor wire and checkpoints in key areas.

Military officials have reported the possibility of attacks by insurgents over the holiday period, similar to attacks in the capital on Christmas Day.

A car bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy passed on a street in the Iraqi capital full of shops, destroying one Humvee, Iraqi police Sgt. Thabet Talib said. An 8-year-old Iraqi boy was killed and 11 other Iraqi bystanders were being treated for injuries, hospital doctors said.

A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition said he could confirm only that there was an explosion.

Elsewhere, gunfire erupted as hundreds of Arab and Turkmens marched in protest over fears of Kurdish domination in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, and police said two people were killed.

Also Wednesday, U.S. military officials reported a U.S. soldier was killed and a second wounded in the accidental discharge of a weapon. A statement said the accident, in the 82nd Airborne Division, occurred Tuesday evening at Tanf, on Iraq's western border with Syria.

It was the 478th U.S. death in Iraq.

In other developments:

  • Just weeks after Pentagon auditors said Halliburton may have overcharged taxpayers $61 million to import oil to Iraq, the Defense Department is removing the Army Corps of Engineers from its role in supervising the program. Halliburton has said its pricing resulted from a contract with a Kuwaiti firm, the only company approved as a supplier by the Corps.

  • Attorney General John Ashcroft has recused himself from the investigation of a leak of the name of a CIA agent to the press and appointed a special counsel to lead the probe, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

  • For U.S. intelligence and allies, the weapons hunt in Iraq may have far reaching consequences in the coming year for the United States in its efforts to curb Iran, North Korea, Syria and others. In nine months, not a single item has been found in Iraq from a long and classified intelligence list of weapons of mass destruction which guided the work of dozens of elite teams from Special Forces, the military, the CIA and the Pentagon.

  • Iraqi state television took graphic footage of badly injured prisoners of war Jessica Lynch and Lori Piestewa, who may have died shortly afterward, following the ambush of the soldiers' convoy, NBC reported. The tape was never aired in Iraq.
  • Thailand's prime minister insisted he will not send combat troops to Iraq after two members of the country's humanitarian mission were killed in a car bomb last week. "We are committed to the humanitarian task," Thaksin Shinawatra told reporters at a year-end news conference.

    In Kirkuk, it was not immediately clear who fired the shots into hundreds of Arabs and Turkmen demanding that the city remain under a central Iraqi government and not be incorporated into any proposed Kurdish area.

    "Kirkuk is an Iraqi city!" protesters shouted.

    Police Col. Salem Taha said Kurdish gunmen opened fire as demonstrators opposed to Kirkuk joining a Kurdish federation tried to converge on the office of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party.

    But a party official, Jalal Jawher, said armed men who had infiltrated the protest fired at his party office and police guarding the building returned fire.

    "We did not open fire on the protesters. Not a single shot was fired from our building," Jawher said. The official said his party was not opposed to the demonstration.

    Two protesters were killed and 16 were wounded in the shooting, said Taha, the police colonel. Records at Jumhouri Hospital showed 26 wounded people were admitted Wednesday.

    U.S. soldiers moved in with tanks to barricade the area and set up checkpoints at major intersections.

    Residents of Kirkuk are divided in roughly equal parts among three ethnic groups — Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds.

    Some Kurds in Kirkuk have been calling for the city to become part of an autonomous Kurdistan, joining a Switzerland-sized area of northern Iraq where Kurds have ruled themselves since the end of the 1991 Gulf War under U.S.-led aerial protection.

    Under the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Sunni Arab minority dominated the country. The Shiite majority is largely centered in the south, while Kurds dominate the north.

    The Governing Council, selected by U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer to reflect the size of the country's diverse groups, has 13 Shiites, five Arab Sunnis, five Kurdish Sunnis, one Turkman and one Christian.

    The U.S.-led coalition plans to transfer authority to a transitional Iraqi government by July 1.
    MMIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report
    • Joel Roberts

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