RAMADI, Iraq – Insurgents fired rocket propelled grenades at U.S. Army (search) patrols in two western Iraqi towns, the latest in an escalating series of attacks that included an ambush involving a 12-year-old girl with an assault rifle, the military said Monday.
No one was injured in the grenade attacks in Khaldiyah and Habaniyah, according to the overnight intelligence report distributed to Army commanders.
Military officials said they had no information about reports that an airstrike on a three-vehicle convoy fleeing Iraq near the Syrian border last Wednesday killed top officials in the government of former president Saddam Hussein (search), perhaps including Saddam or his sons.
The Washington Post quoted defense officials as saying that DNA tests were being conducted on the victims, and the Pentagon was closely following the results of the strike by a Special Operations forces AC-130 gunship.
But they added that so far there was no evidence that either Saddam or one of his sons, Uday and Qusay, was hit. They are the top three on the U.S. list of most-wanted officials in Iraq, and coalition officials say the lack of evidence about their fate is fueling resistance to the occupation within Iraq.
On Sunday, Iraq made its first foray back into the international oil market since the war, with the loading of one million barrels of crude onto a Turkish tanker at the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
But sabotage and looting of the 600-mile pipeline from the northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk to Ceyhan delayed the flow of freshly pumped oil — the key to reconstructing an economy devastated by sanctions and war. Pumping was supposed to have begun Sunday.
Information Radio, operated by the U.S.-led coalition, broadcast an appeal Monday for Iraqis to help police the pipeline and report the location of looted equipment. It said Iraq was losing $50 million a week needed for the nation's reconstruction due to delays caused by sabotage and theft.
In Ramadi, a patrol of two tanks and four Humvees came under small arms fire on Sunday, and the patrol saw a young girl running away with an AK-47 assault rifle, said Capt. Burris Wollsieffer, of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (search). The bullets landed harmlessly in the dirt around the vehicles, he said on Monday.
The troops followed the girl home and found the rifle wrapped in a red dress propped in a corner. Three men in the household were taken for interrogation, but the troops allowed the girl to remain at home when they learned her age. They also seized $1,500 in cash and $1,000 in Iraqi dinars, the officer said.
None of the troops saw who fired the weapon, although they found no other suspects in the area other than the young girl.
"It's just weird. It's totally unconventional," said Wollsieffer, when asked about the rising number of ambushes on his forces in Ramadi, a town where resistance to the occupation has been high. "It's guerrilla warfare."
Two senior army officers met Monday with a prominent Islamic cleric, Abdullah al-Annay who preaches in two Ramadi mosques, to ask him to tone down his anti-American sermons, said the captain.
"If he keeps this kind of speech going, they are just going to attack us more and more," said Wollsieffer, whose regiment has lost 10 men — more than half the 18 men reported killed in combat — since May 1 when major fighting was declared over.
The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment held a moving memorial service Sunday for Staff Sgt. William T. Latham, who died four days earlier in a Washington hospital from shrapnel wounds suffered during a May 19 raid at a suspected arms market.
The latest casualty came Sunday, when a grenade exploded into a military vehicle south of Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding another from the 1st Armored Division.
In an interview published Monday in The Washington Post, Grand Ayatollah Ali Hussein al-Sistani, a senior figure in Iraq's Shiite clerical hierarchy, demanded that the U.S. occupation forces allow Iraqis to rule themselves.
"We feel great unease over their goals, and we see that it is necessary that they should make room for Iraqis to rule themselves by themselves without foreign intervention," al-Sistani said in written responses to questions from The Washington Post.
The U.S. chief administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, acknowledged Sunday to industrialists and political leaders at the World Economic Forum in Jordan that security is a prerequisite for putting Iraq on the road to recovery.
Bremer insisted security was his "first priority," blaming continuing political violence and acts of sabotage on "a very small minority still trying to fight us" that is loyal to Saddam.
He also suggested that Iraqi oil revenues could be distributed directly to the country's citizens, as Alaska does with its residents, or placed in a national trust fund to pay for pensions or other social programs.
"Every individual Iraqi would come to understand that his or her stake in the country's economic success was there to see," Bremer said.
Sunday's oil shipment marked a key first step. Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world, and all proceeds from sales are to go into a U.S.-controlled fund for use rebuilding battered infrastructure and an economy devastated by more than 12 years of U.N. economic sanctions.