A leading Shiite cleric, meanwhile, warned the Americans that attempting a military solution to Iraq's crisis "will only make things worse." Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi also criticized the U.S.-led coalition of failing to restore democracy seven months after the collapse of Saddam Hussein.
Meanwhile, Iraq's growing lawlessness claimed more victims. Two 4th Infantry Division soldiers were killed Thursday and three others were wounded when their convoy was attacked with a roadside bomb near Samara, the military said Friday.
An American civilian contractor was killed and another injured when gunmen attacked a convoy Thursday near Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The victims were not identified pending notification of relatives.
In the south, gunmen Friday fired on jeeps carrying Portuguese journalists, wounding one reporter and kidnapping another, Portuguese media reported. It was the first abduction of a journalist since the occupation began in May.
In other developments:
The seven Iraqi insurgents died Thursday night when a U.S. Apache helicopter fired on suspected Saddam supporters preparing to rocket an American military base 20 miles north of Tikrit, the 4th Infantry Division said. U.S. soldiers later found hundreds of rockets and missiles there.
Along the Syrian border, U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets dropped two satellite-guided bombs Thursday night on a three-story building in Husayba used by insurgents to store ammunition and launch attacks, the 82nd Airborne Division said. U.S. officials have long accused Syria and Iran of allowing fighters to cross the border for attacks on the coalition.
Three 82nd Airborne paratroopers were wounded Thursday night in a rocket attack near Fallujah, the division said. Three soldiers were injured Friday when a bomb they were trying to defuse exploded in northwestern Baghdad, according to witnesses.
In the north, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division captured 14 "suspected terrorists," including eight who belonged to a cell whose leader plotted to kill a top coalition official, the military said.
Faced with a mounting security crisis, the U.S. military this week announced a tough, new policy of going after the insurgents with massive firepower before they have a chance to strike.
However, Ayatollah al-Modaresi warned that "the military solution will make the crisis worse," presumably by alienating large sections of the Iraqi population. Instead, the ayatollah, in a statement released by his office, called for more democracy in Iraq.
He criticized the Americans and their allies for failing to live up to their promises to build a democratic Iraq over the wreckage of Saddam's dictatorial regime.
Chief U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III returned Thursday from talks with Mr. Bush and senior national security advisers and will present U.S. policy changes to the Iraqi Governing Council, the country's interim leadership, possibly as early as Saturday.
The Bush administration is proposing elections in the first half of next year and formation of a government before a constitution is written, a senior U.S. official said in Washington. In the past, the administration insisted that Iraqi leaders write a constitution and hold elections before the occupying power begins shifting power to Iraqis.
On Friday, one council member said the group will study the U.S. proposals but may not agree with the details. "For our part, we have our own ideas," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member. "We will listen to Bremer and he will listen to us."
Winning speedy agreement on a new political course may take time because of conflicting interests among Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups.