BAGHDAD, Iraq – The United Nations agreed Tuesday to send a team to Iraq to help break the impasse over electing a new government, as the deaths of six more American soldiers in roadside bombings underscored concerns about security in the volatile nation.
A bomb that exploded south of Baghdad killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded three others Tuesday night, hours after another bombing west of the capital killed three U.S. paratroopers and wounded one, the military said. In addition, two employees of Cable News Network died in a shooting south of Baghdad.
Elsewhere, U.S. troops killed three suspected members of a guerrilla cell during raids Tuesday in the central Iraqi town of Beiji, the Army said. And a suspected car bomb was discovered near coalition and Iraqi Governing Council (search) offices.
The United States has cited the ongoing violence in arguing against demands by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani for the direct election of a provisional legislature, which in turn will select a government to take power by July 1.
Instead, Washington wants the lawmakers chosen in 18 regional caucuses. The Americans and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan (search) to send a team to determine whether an early election would be feasible.
In Paris, Annan said he believes the United Nations can play "a constructive role" in helping to break the impasse, and would send such a team to Iraq "once I am satisfied that the [coalition] will provide adequate security arrangements."
Annan said the mission will solicit the views of Iraqis to find alternative ways to choose a provisional government. Shiite Muslim leaders have said al-Sistani wants to hear alternatives to the caucus plan if the U.N. team says it's not feasible to hold elections by the end of June.
The U.N. chief also said sending in "blue helmet" peacekeepers was not on the agenda, although he favored a multinational force for Iraq sometime in the future.
"I believe what we can anticipate would be a multinational force authorized by the Security Council, which could help and work with Iraqis to stabilize Iraq and make it safer," Annan said. "This would be a multinational force, with the support of the Security Council, and not 'blue helmets' per se."
In Baghdad, coalition spokesman Dan Senor welcomed Annan's decision and said the United States and its partners would protect the U.N. team.
"We believe we have got sufficient capability to maintain a reasonable security level here in the country and we look forward to the U.N. coming down to make that [assessment] as well," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmit, deputy chief of operations.
The decision to seek U.N. help marked a major policy reversal by the Bush administration, which had sought to minimize the U.N. role since U.S.-led forces invaded the country on March 20. The latest U.S. blueprint for Iraq, announced Nov. 15, made no mention of the United Nations.
Annan withdrew international staff from Iraq last year after two attacks on the U.N. headquarters here, including the devastating August vehicle bombing that killed 22 people, including the top envoy, Sergio Vieria de Mello.
U.N. officials had said Annan insisted on a clear, significant role in Iraq before he would consider returning international staff.
In New York, U.N. spokeswoman Marie Okabe said a U.N. security team arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday to begin assessing safety ahead of the elections team. She declined to say how long the security team was expected to be in Iraq or how big the team was.
A separate two-member U.N. security team went to Baghdad on Friday for talks with the coalition about the possible full return of U.N. employees.
Iraqi leaders have urged the United Nations to return to provide legitimacy to the new government and avoid the stigma of association with the U.S.-led occupation. U.S. officials believe al-Sistani, who has refused to meet with American administrator L. Paul Bremer, would agree to deal with the United Nations.
The Bush administration has sought international help as rising American casualties and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction threaten to make the Iraq policy an issue in the presidential campaign.
The latest U.S. deaths occurred in a roadside bombing about 8 p.m. Tuesday near Iskandariyah, some 25 miles south of Baghdad, a military statement said.
Earlier in Khaldiyah, west of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded near an 82nd Airborne Division (search) convoy. Three paratroopers were killed and one was critically wounded, Kimmit told a news briefing in Baghdad. He said a rescue force that rushed to the scene came under small arms fire, but suffered no casualties.
Iraqi hospital staff said two Iraqi civilians also were killed in the ambush -- including one shot in the stomach as he stood in his office nearby, hospital staff said.
Another Iraqi, Nameer Mohammed, who said he was standing about 500 yards from the site, claimed American soldiers fired randomly after the blasts. This could not be independently confirmed.
Tuesday's killings brought to 519 the number of Americans who have died since the Iraq war began. Most occurred after President Bush declared an end to active combat May 1.
The last serious attack in Khaldiyah took place Saturday when a car bomb killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded six. Two American soldiers were killed in Fallujah the same day.
In Baghdad's southern outskirts, a driver and a translator-producer working for CNN were shot and killed Tuesday by unidentified assailants, the network said. They were returning from an assignment in a two-car convoy, CNN said.
It identified the men as translator-producer Duraid Isa Mohammed and driver Yasser Khatab. CNN said cameraman Scott McWhinnie, in the second car, was grazed in the head by a bullet. Correspondent Michael Holmes and several other people in that car were unhurt.