TALAFAR, Iraq – Homicide bombers, one in a car and another on foot, blew themselves up at the gates of two U.S. military bases on Tuesday, wounding 61 American soldiers but failing to inflict deadly casualties on the scale of recent attacks in Iraq (search).
Most of the soldiers were slightly hurt by debris and flying glass, indicating that massive defenses -- sand barriers, high cement walls and numerous roadblocks leading to the entrances of bases -- have paid off for American troops occupying Iraq.
At the same time, the decision of the homicide bombers to test U.S. defenses reflected the tenacity of an enemy that seeks to undermine American resolve by inflicting mass casualties with a single strike.
The image of U.S. soldiers increasingly hunkered down in fortified bases could also undermine their efforts to befriend Iraqis as a U.S.-led coalition tries to rebuild Iraq and introduce democracy while fighting a persistent insurgency in some parts of the country.
On Tuesday, a U.S. Army observation helicopter took fire and made an emergency landing west of Baghdad (search), and the two crew members walked away with "minimal injuries," the U.S. military said. Residents said the helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopter landed near Fallujah, a focus of resistance to the U.S. occupation. The town sits in the heart of the dangerous Sunni Triangle where the majority of attacks on American forces have occurred since the ouster of Saddam Hussein (search) in a U.S.-led invasion.
Meanwhile, Iraq's interim government voted Tuesday to establish a war crimes tribunal to prosecute top members of Saddam's regime, two people who attended the meeting said. The tribunal will be formally established on Wednesday, when the U.S. administrator for Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, temporarily cedes legislative authority to the Iraqi Governing Council so that it can create the court.
Also Tuesday, diplomats said U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to name Ross Mountain, a veteran U.N. humanitarian relief official from New Zealand, as his interim envoy to Iraq. He will temporarily replace Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the Aug. 19 bombing of U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.
In the larger of the two homicide bombings Tuesday, a man drove up to the gate of a base of the 101st Airborne Division in Talafar, 235 miles northwest of Baghdad, at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday, the military said. Guards at the gate and in a watchtower opened fire and the vehicle blew up, leaving a large crater at the gate's entryway.
Most soldiers were asleep in their barracks and there was no traffic around the gate. Roadblocks had forced the assailant to drive slowly, giving enough time for guards to fire. A cement wall blunted the blast.
Col. Michael Linnington, commander of the division's 3rd Brigade, said the attacker's remains were "all over the compound."
A statement from Central Command said 31 soldiers were wounded, but Maj. Trey Cate, a division spokesman, said put the number at 59. Both said most of the injuries were minor.
"Eight soldiers were medically evacuated, of which four were sent to Baghdad," Cate said. The other 51 soldiers were slightly wounded by debris and flying glass, he said.
An Iraqi working as a translator also was wounded in the blast, which damaged nearby homes. Several other civilians, including a 2-year-old girl, were hurt by flying glass.
Pieces of the attacker's car were scattered hundreds of yards away. A school across the street from the base was heavily damaged, but no students were injured because the bomb exploded before classes began. At a nearby mosque, glass was scattered on the carpets and some lights were blown out.
Hazem Ismail, a 40-year-old school teacher, said several pieces of the car hit his house, shattering the window of the room where his five children were sleeping.
"The kids woke up terrified from their beds, but thank God none of them were harmed," he said.
Later Tuesday, a man acting suspiciously walked toward the gates of a U.S. base in Husseiniya, 15 miles northeast of Baghdad, said Maj. Josslyn Aberle, a U.S. military spokeswoman. When military police opened fire, he activated an explosive device and blew himself up. Two soldiers were slightly wounded.
Many potential military and international targets in Baghdad and elsewhere now have tightened security, apparently prompting attackers to turn to civilian targets in their campaign to destabilize the country and undermine the U.S.-led administration.
In Baghdad, three people were killed and two wounded early Tuesday in an explosion in the courtyard of a Sunni mosque, police said. Firefighters said two or three rocket-propelled grenades had been placed near the wall of the mosque.
Since the U.S.-led invasion on March 20, 448 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq. Of those, 308 have died as a result of hostile action. The British military has reported 52 deaths; Italy, 17; Spain, eight, and Denmark, Ukraine and Poland one each.
In Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Cabinet approved a plan Tuesday to send soldiers to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, the biggest deployment of Japanese troops overseas since World War II.
Also Tuesday, the U.S.-picked Governing Council unanimously decided to expel Iran's opposition Mujahedeen Khalq group from Iraq by the end of the year. The group is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.