'Iron Hammer' Continues to Pound Iraq

U.S. Apache helicopter (search) strike in Iraq Friday killed seven guerrillas thought to be preparing an attack on a U.S. base. In a separate operation, U.S. troops detained several Iraqis suspected of attacking American helicopters.

The chopper attack came as guerrillas continued their strikes against coalition troops. One U.S. soldier from the 1st Armored Division was killed Friday and two were injured in an early morning roadside bombing in Baghdad.

The latest death followed Thursday's roadside bombing 75 miles north of Baghdad that left two U.S. soldiers dead and three wounded in an attack on their convoy.

The Apache attack happened near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit (search); afterward, a patrol found hundreds of rockets and missiles near the site.

Military officials also said U.S. troops rounded up suspected guerrillas in Tikrit. The coalition detained at least six Iraqis who were suspected of carrying out attacks on a Black Hawk helicopter (search) last week and destroying a CH-47 Chinook (search) helicopter two weeks ago. One man arrested in the raids was a new policeman appointed by the U.S.-led coalition, sources said.

In another U.S. attack, part of this week's Operation Iron Hammer (search), the 101st Airborne carried out a series of raids in Mosul in which troops arrested 14 insurgents that military officials believe were plotting to assassinate an unidentified top coalition official.

A leading Shiite cleric warned the Americans that attempting to stabilize Iraq through military action "will only make things worse." Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi (search) also criticized the U.S.-led coalition for failing to usher in democracy seven months after the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime.

In the south of Iraq on Friday, gunmen kidnapped a journalist after opening fire on jeeps full of Portuguese reporters. One journalist was wounded in the attack, Portuguese media reported. It was the first abduction of a journalist since the occupation began in May.

Distant explosions could be heard after sundown in central Baghdad, and the 1st Armored Division said they were part of "pre-emptive mortar fire" against insurgent positions.

A division spokesman said aircraft were launched to carry out some of the strikes. He would not specify the targets but said the operation was ongoing late Friday.

Military personnel have not been the only Americans targeted in the recent violence. On Thursday, enemy gunmen attacked a convoy of vehicles, killing a U.S. civilian contractor and injuring another near Balad (search), 45 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The victims were not identified pending notification of relatives.

Private U.S. contractors are working in a variety of tasks in Iraq — helping rebuild infrastructure and train Iraqi police and officials, as well as taking military roles, such as guards.

In other developments:

— Troops from the 101st Airborne Division captured 14 "suspected terrorists," including eight who belonged to a Mosul cell whose leader is suspected of plotting to assassinate a top coalition official. Separately, three suspects were arrested for "conducting attacks on U.S. forces," the military said.

— In the town of Husayba near the Syrian border, U.S. forces destroyed a three-story building used by insurgents as a staging area for attacks and storage of ammunition. F-16 jets dropped two JDAM satellite-guided bombs on the target late Thursday, the military said.

— Three paratroopers were wounded, one seriously, late Thursday by a rocket attack near Fallujah, the military said.

The continuing violence has pushed Washington to look at speeding up the transfer of power to an Iraqi-led government.

Chief U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer (searchjust returned from talks with President Bush and will present proposed policy changes to Iraq's Governing Council. He met with Iraqi leaders on Friday, according to ABC News.

Among the proposed changes were holding elections in the first half of next year and the formation of a new government before a constitution is written, senior administration officials said.

In addition, ABC reported that the new proposals call for provincial leaders to meet in the spring to choose delegates for an assembly, which would elect a transitional government by next summer. And the United States would hand over power to this body.

Iraqi Governing Council member Mahmoud Othman warned that the Iraqis won't necessarily agree with all the changes.

"For our part, we have our own ideas," said Othman, a Kurdish member of the 24-member body appointed Bremer four months ago. "We will listen to Bremer and he will listen to us."

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld cautioned that a swifter handing of sovereignty to the Iraqis would not mean U.S. troops and personnel would leave the country any sooner than necessary.

"What it means is the Iraqis would begin to take on a greater portion of responsibility sooner than the original (plan)," Rumsfeld said Friday, during a trip to Japan.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces kept up their new "get-tough" campaign against the insurgency, and the U.S. Central Command (search) said it will add several hundred staff members to its forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar.

Central Command, based in Tampa, Fla., has continually maintained more than a hundred staff members in Qatar since the base was established in late 2002. Staffing has ebbed and flowed dependent upon operations and exercises.

Fox News' Dana Lewis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.