A U.S. military convoy came under attack Thursday on the main highway west of Baghdad near the town of Abu Ghraib, witnesses said. An Associated Press Television News cameraman filmed two flatbed military trucks that were abandoned and left with their cabs blazing fiercely, as dozens of townspeople converged to loot tires and other vehicle parts. The military had no immediate information.
And in the northern city of Mosul, unidentified gunmen on Thursday shot dead an Iraqi police sergeant, Brig. Gen. Muwaffaq Mohammed said.
The overnight attack on the Italian mission underscored the precarious security situation in the Iraqi capital, despite a reduction in attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces in recent days. Two weeks ago, a suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside the Italian barracks in Nasiriyah, killing 19 Italians and 14 others in an apparent attempt to weaken the resolve of Washington's coalition partners.
In Mosul, U.S. troops on Wednesday killed a girl and injured three people in a pickup truck that was approaching American soldiers who had been shot at, the U.S. military said. No weapons were found in the truck. Assailants had fired at two shuttle buses traveling from a U.S. military compound, but no American troops were hurt.
On Sunday, two U.S. soldiers were fatally shot in Mosul, which had been relatively peaceful until a recent upsurge in violence.
Under overcast skies and intermittent rain Thursday, some American soldiers took time out from street patrols and their hunt for Iraqi guerrillas to celebrate Thanksgiving.
The festivities marked a respite from the daily grind for U.S. troops in Iraq, one day after they arrested a wife and a daughter of a top Saddam deputy suspected of leading the anti-U.S. insurgency.
The capture of the relatives of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is No. 6 on the U.S. list of most-wanted Iraqis, was an apparent attempt to pressure his surrender or gather intelligence that might lead to him. U.S. officials last week offered a US$10 million reward for information leading to al-Douri's capture.
Troops in Samarra, 70 miles north of Baghdad, detained the women in a raid that also netted another al-Douri associate, U.S. Lt. Col. William MacDonald said in Tikrit.
On the political front, U.S.-led efforts to establish a sovereign Iraq with a stable government suffered a setback when two top Shiite Muslim leaders said they want elections sooner than March 15, 2005, part of a plan agreed to by the coalition and the coalition-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. The plan also calls for the creation of an interim administration by next July.
In Iraq's holy city of Najaf, Grand Ayatollah Ali Husseini al-Sistani feels that "real loopholes" in the plan "must be dealt with, otherwise the process will be deficient and will not meet the expectations of the people of Iraq," said Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite member of the Governing Council, after talks with al-Sistani.
The ayatollah wields considerable influence among Shiites, who make up more than 60 percent of Iraq's 25 million people. Al-Hakim heads the biggest Shiite political movement — the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad declined comment on al-Sistani's reported remarks, saying the head of the administration, L. Paul Bremer, had no wish "to negotiate in public."
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the spokesman said the Nov. 15 accord was a "framework" agreement and that "a lot of difficult details must still be worked out."
In Washington, U.S. defense officials announced that several thousand additional U.S. Marines would head to Iraq next year.
The Pentagon had announced Nov. 6 that the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq would add up to about 105,000 after troop rotations are completed in May, but the additional marines appear to bump up that total to 110,000.
Washington currently has 130,000 troops in Iraq.