Bloody November For U.S. In Iraq

Guerrillas killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded a third in an ambush in western Iraq, a military statement said on Sunday. A day earlier, seven Spanish intelligence agents and two Japanese diplomats died in separate attacks near Baghdad.

With the latest deaths, guerrillas have killed 106 coalition troops in Iraq in November, with 79 American soldiers slain along with 25 other allied soldiers. It has been the bloodiest month of the war that began March 20.

A military statement said the U.S. troops were killed when a task force from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was hit Saturday by rocket-propelled grenades and automatic fire east of the border town of Husaybah, 180 miles northwest of Baghdad.

Also Sunday, the U.S. military said the collision of two Black Hawk helicopters in Mosul on Nov. 15 - the single deadliest incident of the war for American forces - may have been caused by enemy fire. Until now, the military had not said publicly what caused the collision in which 17 soldiers died.

"It appears to be that one helicopter was hit by a (rocket-propelled grenade)," said Col. Joe Anderson of the 101st Airborne Division.

In other developments:

  • The movement of U.S leaders and troops is being carefully tracked by Iraqi insurgents and used to plan attacks, U.S. officials tell The New York Times.
  • President Bush says he's pleased to report morale is strong on the front lines in Iraq. He used his weekly radio address to talk about his surprise Thanksgiving Day visit to Baghdad. Bush says he the troops' morale is high, and the military is "confident" it "will prevail." Bush also says Americans appreciate the difficulties military families are facing, especially those who have lost loved ones in the war. He says many are showing their appreciation by helping military families repair their homes and offering other kinds of help. He urged more Americans to do so.
  • Iraqi oil wells require extensive underground repairs or the oil reserves may be permanently damaged, the New York Times reports.

    The seven Spanish intelligence agents were killed in an ambush Saturday in Mahmudiyah, 18 miles south of Baghdad. One Spanish agent escaped.

    On Sunday, witnesses at the scene, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, said the Spaniards had been traveling in a pair of sport utility vehicles when men in a car behind them opened fire. One of the SUVs careered off the road into a ditch.

    The occupants fled the car and were shot at the roadside, perhaps by a second group of attackers involved in the ambush. On Sunday, the charred remains of the car could be seen in a watery ditch at the side of the road, with a group of villagers scavenging its parts.

    Journalists who arrived on the scene shortly after the attack said a small crowd chanted praise for ousted president Saddam Hussein and some even kicked at the bodies.

    The attack came a little more than two weeks after 19 Italians were killed in a suicide bombing appeared aimed at undercutting the cohesion of the U.S.-led coalition, which includes more than 30 countries. The insurgents are also focusing on separating U.S. forces from Iraqi allies by attacking police and local officials.

    Television footage of the aftermath of the ambush showed several bodies along a highway as cars, their headlights on, drove by at dusk. People milled around, and a youth — apparently aware he was being filmed — kicked his foot in the air over a body. An older youth rested his foot on a corpse, an arm raised in triumph.

    "We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, oh Saddam," some in the group chanted in Arabic, witnesses said.
    Chandrasekaran said a crowd of about 100 people gathered, and added he saw people kicking the bodies. "It was hostility mixed with jubilation."

    Spokesmen for Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar said the attack wouldn't cause Spain to end its presence in Iraq. The killings of the Spanish agents came more than two weeks after assailants targeted another staunch U.S. ally, Italy, with a devastating car bomb outside the Italian barracks in Nasiriyah that killed 19 Italians and 14 others.

    He said he would fly to Iraq to repatriate the bodies, which were evacuated from the scene by helicopters of Spain's Plus Ultra Brigade.

    President Bush called Aznar "to express his sympathies on behalf of the American people," said White House spokesman Allen Abney. He said Aznar "reaffirmed his support for our joint effort in Iraq."

    In a third deadly attack, two Japanese diplomats were killed by unidentified gunmen Saturday as they stopped to buy food and drinks at a stand outside the village of Mukayshifa on the road between Baghdad and Tikrit, Lt. Col. William MacDonald said Sunday.

    The diplomats, on their way to attend a reconstruction conference, were not traveling with a military escort, MacDonald said. Their Iraqi driver was also reported killed in the incident.

    The attacks on U.S. allies appear to be part of an effort to undercut the coalition. Insurgents also have targeted Iraqis seen as collaborating with the occupation authorities, such as police and local officials

    In Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said some U.S.-trained Iraqi police and civilian informants appear to have conducted attacks on coalition targets.

    "We try to do the vetting (of Iraqi employees) as close as we can," Sanchez said at a news conference in Baghdad. But he added: "There have been instances when police were conducting attacks against the coalition and against the people."

    U.S.-led efforts to establish a reliable Iraqi security network are vital to Washington's plans to transfer political power to a new Iraqi leadership, opening the way for the eventual withdrawal of American troops who come under daily attack.

    U.S. officials say the arrest of three North Africans in Europe this week on suspicion of recruiting militants to attack the American-led coalition in Iraq points to an organized international campaign.

    Sanchez said the United States suspects operatives of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network have taken part in many of the attacks on coalition and civilian targets in Iraq, but still has no conclusive evidence of its involvement.

    He acknowledged the difficulty of establishing a firm connection with al Qaeda amid the chaos of what has been the deadliest month for American soldiers since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20 — though the number of assaults has declined in recent days.

    "We still haven't conclusively established an al Qaeda operative in this country," the general said.

    Guerrilla attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq have dropped some 30 percent in the past two weeks, Sanchez said, from a daily average of 35 to 22. On the worst days earlier this month, there were as many as 50 attacks a day, Sanchez said. At least 75 U.S. soldiers have been killed in November.