TIKRIT, Iraq – Attackers ambushed a U.S. military patrol late Thursday, killing three American soldiers and wounding two on the outskirts of Saddam Hussein's hometown. The assault near Tikrit (search) came hours after insurgents ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs, opening a three-hour gunbattle in a volatile city 50 miles west of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said two soldiers were wounded in the Khaldiyah ambush, the latest in a string of attacks that has raised questions about the Bush administration's handling of post-war Iraq.
The three soldiers from the Army's 4th Infantry Division (search) were killed when attackers opened fire with small arms in the village of Uja (search), just five miles south of the center of Tikrit, shortly before midnight Thursday, Lt. Col. William McDonald said. Uja was Saddam's birthplace.
The two wounded soldiers were evacuated to a medical treatment facility and the names of those killed were withheld pending notification of next of kin, he said.
The soldiers were part of a patrol investigating a suspected site used to launch rocket propelled grenades, or RPG's, at American military convoys. The weapons have been used to launch repeated attacks against the U.S. military in and around Tikrit.
"They were responding to a suspected RPG site when the incident occurred," McDonald said.
He provided no further details and did not say if any Iraqis had been killed in the firefight.
The attacks came just one day after the Al-Arabiya television (search) station aired an audiotape in which a man claiming to be Saddam urged Iraqis to step up attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.
Earlier Thursday, insurgents ambushed two U.S. military convoys with remote-controlled bombs and opened fire on one of them, unleashing a three-hour gunbattle in the city of Khaldiyah, about 50 miles west of Baghdad. The U.S. military said two soldiers were wounded.
Five U.S. tanks, two Bradley fighting vehicles (search) and 40 troops surrounded the neighborhood from which gunmen opened fire after the first roadside bomb exploded. Helicopters hovered above.
Initially, as U.S. forces took fire, the soldiers shot back with no obvious targets in an apparent effort to protect themselves until reinforcements arrived, a witness said.
Al-Arabiya television reported eight Americans were killed and one wounded in the initial ambush about 3 p.m. The U.S. military did not confirm any deaths. Khaldiyah residents said U.S. soldiers were killed but could not agree on how many.
Shortly afterward and nine miles to the west, a second roadside bomb hit a military convoy of three Humvees and a truck. One Humvee was engulfed in flames.
Hours after the ambushes, soldiers pointed tank cannons at reporters every time they tried to approach.
As U.S. troops withdrew from the "Sunni Triangle" region at nightfall Thursday, Khaldiyah residents danced in the streets carrying a poster of Saddam Hussein in military fatigues. They fired Kalashnikov assault rifles in the air and chanted: "With our blood, with our souls, we sacrifice ourselves for you, Saddam."
This region north and west of Baghdad — including the especially dangerous cities of Fallujah (search) and Ramadi with Khaldiyah in between — is a stronghold of Saddam loyalists who have carried out bloody assaults on American forces daily and with increasing sophistication.
Soldiers are jumpy in the face of a guerrilla war in which it is extremely difficult to distinguish combatants from civilians. Their unease showed itself in the Thursday ambushes and firefight as soldiers appeared to be firing on anything they felt threatened by, including an Associated Press reporter and photographer covering the incident.
Neither man was hurt. Photographer Karim Kadim and his driver ran to safety from their car after an American tank trained its machine gun on the vehicle. It was subsequently hit about 20 times, blowing out the rear window, knocking a big hole in the windshield and flattening the tires. The reporter ran around the corner of a building as a tank fired three rounds from its 50-caliber machine gun in his direction.
Khaldiyah residents said three young Iraqi men were wounded, one shot in the chest and two with shoulder wounds.
Khaldiyah's police chief, Col. Khedeir Mekhalef Ali, was slain Monday in a brazen shooting — the latest attack on Iraqis working with coalition forces. Ali was shot at a traffic circle on the outskirts of Fallujah as he was returning to his home there.
About 20 miles to the east of Khaldiya, a nervous American patrol shot at a wedding party in Fallujah late Wednesday, killing a 14-year-old boy and wounding six other people after mistaking celebratory gunfire for an attack, witnesses said.
The shooting came five days after American soldiers mistakenly killed eight U.S.-allied Iraqi police officers outside the city in a friendly fire incident. The military has apologized and opened an investigation.
Witnesses said guests at the wedding party shot guns into the air in celebration, and passing American troops in Humvees, apparently believing they were under attack, opened fire.
A resident, Adel Hmood, said the Americans shot 360 degrees around themselves. The dead boy, Sufyan Daoud al-Kubaisi, was on his way to buy cigarettes when he was killed, Hmood said.
Bullet holes in homes and buildings in the area, about two blocks off the main street in Fallujah, suggested heavy firing by the Americans.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces, said the military was investigating and could not confirm that a boy was killed.
North of Baghdad, fire raged at an oil pipeline after an explosion at the site, the U.S. military said. Residents said it was the latest in a series of sabotage attacks.
The military said the fire was so fierce that investigators could not get close to determine its cause.
The pipeline carries crude oil from fields near Kirkuk to Iraq's largest refinery at Beiji.
Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division based in Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, said valves on the pipeline were being closed to shut off fuel to the fire.
"The fire won't affect oil production or the timetable for resuming exports," Aberle said.
Another pipeline, to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, has been hit by a string of attacks. L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, said the line's closure was costing the country $7 million each day. The military says the line should resume operation in about a month.
Also Thursday, Sanchez said no Americans or Britons were currently being held by coalition forces in Iraq.