Poles Suffer First Combat Death in Iraq

Poland (search) suffered its first combat death since the aftermath of World War II (search) when a Polish major was fatally wounded Thursday in an ambush south of Baghdad. Two American soldiers died in attacks near the capital and along the Syrian border.

In al-Assad, a windblown desert base 150 miles northwest of Baghdad (search), hundreds of soldiers, some wearing ceremonial spurs and black regimental hats, remembered the comrades killed last weekend when their helicopter was shot down in the deadliest single attack against U.S. forces since the Iraq war began March 20.

The Polish officer was wounded when insurgents attacked a convoy of 16 Polish soldiers returning from a promotion ceremony for Iraqi civilian defense trainees near Baghdad. Maj. Hieronim Kupczyk, 44, died at a military hospital in Karbala, the Polish Defense Ministry said.

None of the other Polish soldiers was killed or wounded, according to Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski.

"This tragic event proves that the situation in Iraq is getting complicated," Szmajdzinski told reporters in Warsaw. "The level of professionalism of the terrorists is increasing."

Elsewhere, one U.S. soldier from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment was killed Thursday when his truck hit a land mine near the Husaybah border crossing point with Syria nearly 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, the military said.

A paratrooper from the 82nd Airborne Division was killed and two others were wounded when their patrol came under rocket-propelled grenade and small arms fire near Mahmudiyah, 15 miles south of Baghdad late Wednesday, the military said.

In Washington on Thursday, Bush signed an $87.5 billion package approved by Congress for Iraq and Afghanistan, calling the money a financial commitment by the United States to the global war to defeat terrorism.

"With this act of Congress, no enemy or friend can doubt that America has the resources and the will to see this war through to victory," Bush said at a White House ceremony.

At al-Assad, U.S. troops honored their colleagues killed Sunday when insurgents shot down a Chinook helicopter. Most of the soldiers were headed to home leave in the United States and elsewhere. Another of the wounded soldiers died in a hospital in Germany Thursday, bringing the Chinook death toll to 16.

The official count of the wounded had been 21 before the latest death. However, the U.S. Defense Department said in a statement later Thursday that 26 soldiers were recovering from their wounds. The statement did not elaborate.

"Death was in the cause of freedom. They were serving our country and answering our nation's call to fight terrorists," said Col. David A. Teeples, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "We honor them for their sacrifice. We honor them as Americans, as soldier and as family."

The helicopter was shot down near Fallujah, one of the centers of Iraqi resistance about 40 miles west of Baghdad. On Wednesday, the 82nd Airborne Division said it captured two Iraqi army officers -- Lt. Gen. Khamis Saleh Ibrahim Al-Halbossi and Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Adwan Al-Alwani -- who were believed to have played a major role in attacks in the Fallujah area.

The deaths Thursday brought to 141 the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq by hostile fire since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1. A total of 114 U.S. soldiers were killed in action before Bush's declaration.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced plans to send 85,000 relief troops to Iraq early next year, part of a rotation plan that assumes Iraqis be able to assume more control and American troops in Iraq can be reduced from 131,600 today to 105,000 by May, senior officials said.

Concern over security mounted after a series of attacks around the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which began here Oct. 27. Since then, insurgents have rocketed the Al-Rasheed Hotel, set off deadly car bombs in Baghdad, fired mortars at the coalition headquarters compound in Baghdad and shot down the Chinook.

The number of daily attacks on coalition forces dropped to 29 last week from a spike of 37 the week before, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday.

However, the chief British representative here, Jeremy Greenstock, said coalition forces face a "rough winter" of attacks, The Times of London newspaper reported in Wednesday's edition.

Greenstock also said it would be difficult to defeat the insurgents without the sort of heavy-handed measures that would further alienate the Iraqi people, the newspaper said.

The Polish major was the first Polish soldier killed by hostile fire in more than a half century of post-World War II peacekeeping missions, including the Golan Heights, Lebanon, Haiti and the Balkans. More than 500,000 Polish soldiers died during World War II, and 20,000 more were killed in fighting along the eastern border that continued until 1947.

The United States, Britain and now Poland are the only coalition members to have suffered combat deaths in Iraq. One Dane was killed by friendly fire.

Poland has 2,400 soldiers in Iraq and are in charge of a large swath of south-central Iraq where about 9,500 soldiers of several nations help maintain security. Poland was among the strongest supporters of the U.S.-led war to remove Saddam Hussein, and 250 Polish special forces soldiers fought in the conflict.

The killing of the Polish major took place a few days before the planned visit of Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who is due here as part of a Middle East tour.

Despite the growing risk to coalition forces, a senior Japanese official said in Baghdad that his country would honor its commitment to send peacekeepers to Iraq.

The Japanese plan to send a 150-member advance contingent to southern Iraq by the end of the year and 550 soldiers early next year to provide water, medical care and other services.