Two GIs Killed in Iraq; Ex-General Nabbed

Assailants detonated a roadside bomb near a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad on Monday, killing two American soldiers and an Iraqi translator. A U.S. commander said soldiers in the city had captured nine top rebel leaders in the past week, and had increased security ahead of possible Christmas season attacks.

Meanwhile, President Bush met Monday at the White House with L. Paul Bremer (search), the U.S. administrator of Iraq and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Earlier, Bremer told NBC's "Today" show that "there's been a suggestion of high terror threats" in Iraq in recent weeks unrelated to Saddam Hussein's capture on Dec. 13.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the White House meeting was "an opportunity, again, for Ambassador Bremer to update the president on the progress that we're making in Iraq. ... They had a good discussion."

In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Hertling of the 1st Armored Division, which is responsible for security in Baghdad, said that additional security measures would be a prudent move.

"We have some indications that it would be prudent to take some additional measures to counter specific potential threats," said Hertling . "In this past week alone we have captured nine senior leaders in the former regime network; we have intel on about a dozen more, and we are pursuing them," Hertling wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Two other soldiers from the 1st Armored Division were wounded in the attack at about 11:45 a.m. in Baghdad. The soldiers' names were being until their families are notified.

A total of 317 U.S. soldiers have been killed as a result of hostile action since the invasion in March.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin (searchtold members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council that Russia was ready to write off more than half of the $8 billion that Baghdad owes Moscow, its largest creditor.

At a Kremlin meeting, Putin told the delegation -- led by the current head of the Governing Council, Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim -- that Russia was ready to write off 65 percent of the debt, said Samir Shaker Mahmoud, a council member.

The debt is part of the approximately $41 billion owed by Iraq to the so-called Paris Club group of creditor nations; Iraq's overall debt is about $120 billion.

Also Monday, Poland's President Aleksander Kwasniewski (searchmade a brief and unannounced visit to Polish troops based at Babylon, south of Baghdad.

Polish television showed Kwasniewski posing for photographs with soldiers in front of a Christmas crib and joining the troops in singing Polish carols.

Kwasniewski said he met with Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, during a stopover in Baghdad.

"He said the tension will grow over the coming days but then the situation should improve," the president said.

Also Monday, a 20-year-old Polish soldier at a camp in Karbala, near Babylon, was fatally shot when a weapon being cleaned by a fellow soldier fired accidentally, the military in Warsaw said.

Poland strongly backed the U.S.-led war to oust Saddam and was selected to lead a 9,500-strong multinational peacekeeping force in a south-central region of the country. It has contributed 2,400 of its own troops.

U.S. troops on Sunday detained ex-army Gen. Mumtaz al-Taji at a house in Baqouba, about 30 miles north of Baghdad.

"Tonight, we were on a mission to capture a former Iraqi intelligence service general who we believe is recruiting former military members of the Iraqi army to conduct attacks against U.S. forces," Maj. Paul Owen of the 588th Engineer Battalion told Associated Press Television News.

Al-Taji is not on the U.S. list of the 55 most wanted Iraqis. Thirteen fugitives from that list remain at large.

Bremer said information gleaned from Saddam's capture has led to the arrests of insurgents like the ex-general.

"We have been arresting quite a number of his cronies and colleagues, including one last night," Bremer said. "We are getting some very useful opportunities in the last week or 10 days now to try to wrap up the leaders of the troops that are attacking our soldiers."

Saddam, however, "has not been particularly cooperative," Bremer said. "But we have been able to exploit some of the information and materials we have uncovered in the course of the last week in this battle to see down these insurgents."

Saddam was arrested Dec. 13 near his hometown of Tikrit, and the U.S. military has said soldiers also seized a briefcase containing documents that shed light on the anti-U.S. insurgency. The CIA is interrogating him in Iraq; Iraqi officials say the former dictator is in the Baghdad area.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Monday that once the U.S.-led provisional authority hands power over to Iraqis next year, the Baghdad won't discriminate against countries that want to help rebuild the country.

The comments by appeared to be criticism of the U.S. decision to bar firms based in countries that opposed the Iraq war from bidding on $18.6 billion in contracts for reconstruction projects. The decision sparked widespread criticism in Germany, France and Russia, which have been shut out.

In southern Baghdad on Sunday, U.S. soldiers backed by helicopter gunships surrounded the Atika mosque, searched it until early Monday and found one assault rifle, a worker at the mosque told APTN. The mosque is used by Muslims of the Sunni tradition, a minority that dominated Iraq under Saddam, a Sunni.

In recent days, American troops have conducted large-scale raids in Fallujah, west of Baghdad; Samarra, 75 miles north of Baghdad; Jalulah, northwest of the capital; and Rawah near the western border with Syria. At least three Iraqis have died in the raids.

In the northern city of Mosul, the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division opened a new downtown police headquarters, just seven months after it was looted during the collapse of Saddam's regime. There are 4,200 Iraqi police in Mosul, where insurgents have targeted officers accused of collaborating with the U.S.-led occupation.