BAGHDAD, Iraq – Insurgents killed three U.S. soldiers with roadside bombs, the military reported Tuesday, and former Iraqi intelligence officers demanding jobs hurled stones and charged American forces guarding occupation headquarters in the capital.
Large sections of Baghdad (search) were in turmoil. There was an explosion inside the Foreign Ministry compound about a half mile from the confrontation outside the U.S.-led occupation headquarters.
Across the city, U.S. solders were met with a demonstration by Shiite Muslims (search) after closing a mosque and allegedly arresting the imam. Late in the afternoon, U.S. troops fired concussion grenades and shots in the air to disperse the crowd, which grew by the hour.
By nightfall, an estimated 200 American troops backed by helicopters and at least six M1A2 tanks had sealed off the area, and more Americans and Iraqi protesters converged on the scene. As the midnight curfew approached, however, the standoff eased, with the Americans pulling back most of their forces. Shortly afterward, the protesters began leaving the area, too.
L. Paul Bremer (search), the U.S. administrator for Iraq, said the trouble in the capital did not reflect a turn for the worse.
"The situation is certainly not getting worse, that is nonsense," he said in Hillah, 40 miles south of Baghdad, where he was participating in a women's conference.
"When I arrived in Baghdad in May, it was a city on fire, there was no electricity, the schools, hospitals, universities were all closed," he said.
"All of these things have gotten better, day by day," Bremer said. "Of course there will be demonstrations, we should expect that. We have demonstrations in all democracies throughout the world."
After the former Iraqi intelligence officers hurled pavement stones outside occupation headquarters, American reinforcements began moving forward from the compound toward the protesters, who then scattered. No shots were fired and the Americans pulled back. Throughout the day, small groups of protesters milled around the entrance but did not threaten the soldiers.
The three soldiers' deaths, the first reported since Friday, brought to 91 the number of American soldiers killed in hostile action since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. A total of 320 U.S. service members have died in Iraq since the United States and Britain launched military operations against Saddam Hussein's government March 20.
One soldier attached to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was killed and another wounded in a bombing about 9:50 p.m. Monday just west of Baghdad.
About an hour later, another roadside bombing killed two soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division and their Iraqi translator. Two other soldiers were wounded in the bombing in al-Haswah, 25 miles south of the capital.
Tuesday afternoon, three 4th Infantry Division soldiers were slightly wounded in a roadside bombing of a U.S. convoy in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.
West of Baghdad, the military reported a helicopter made a hard landing at the U.S. air base near Habaniyah, slightly injuring two soldiers.
Also Tuesday, U.S. troops conducted a pre-dawn raid in Baqouba, 45 miles north of Baghdad, and captured an officer in the former Iraqi army's special forces who allegedly was helping to organize resistance fighters, the military said.
The former officer was grabbed along with six other people. U.S. troops also discovered a suitcase full of bomb-making materials along with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar sights, various passports, large amounts of ammunition and a large sum of money, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle of the 4th ID.
She said the passports included one from Germany and one from Russia and all belonged to the former officer. He was not identified.
There were no known injuries in the incidents in Baghdad, but traffic in the center of the capital was at a near standstill for a long period at midday with streets around the Foreign Ministry and Saddam's former Republican Palace -- now U.S. headquarters -- blocked by U.S. soldiers in armored vehicles and Iraqi police.
U.S. Army Maj. John Frisbie said the explosion at the Foreign Ministry blew a crater about a foot in diameter in a parking lot. Some shrubbery was damaged, but no one was wounded, Frisbie said, adding there was no sign of a mortar attack.
But Hussein Amin, a witness, said a mortar shell or rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the ministry compound and landed near the office of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and broke windows. Zebari was not there. Workers in the compound came streaming out. Iraqi guards fired rifles in the air shortly after the midmorning blast.