Visiting Coalition Officials Vow to Stay the Course in Iraq

Faced with a growing insurgency and frequent attacks and ambushes on coalition troops, a group of U.S. and British politicians vowed on Wednesday to stay the course in Iraq -- one day after President Bush ensured Iraq won't slide back into hands of Saddam loyalists.

Attacks on coalition forces have been on the rise, and another U.S. soldier died overnight Wednesday after being wounded in one of two ambushes near Baghdad (search) Tuesday, the U.S. military said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) said the Iraqi people, not coalition troops, are the ones most hurt from attacks by Saddam loyalists. He promised the insurgents would never dissuade the coalition from its mission.

"There is absolutely no question of those attacks leading to a pull-out," he said Wednesday in Kuwait before leaving for Iraq's southern city of Basra, where he was meeting with local officials and British troops.

"We will be staying in Iraq for as long as it takes to support the Iraqi people, to establish representative government, and to establish decent social and economic services for the Iraqi people," he said.

Straw, who made the comments to Britain's Press Association, was later scheduled to travel to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Meanwhile, a delegation of nine U.S. senators on a three-day tour of Iraq expressed confidence Tuesday in the U.S. mission, but acknowledged that risks remain.

"This coalition of armed forces is never, ever going to give in, irrespective of what is thrown at it," said John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It will never give in until freedom replaces the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his regime."

Sen. Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, urged the U.S. government to reach out to other nations to help rebuild Iraq, and called on his countrymen to stay committed to the process.

"We need the patience to stay the course," said Levin, a Democrat from Michigan.

In Washington, President Bush said Tuesday anti-American violence was expected because Saddam loyalists will stop at nothing to regain power.

In Baghdad, the top U.S. official in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said the U.S.-led provisional authority was "well on track to establish an Iraqi interim administration by mid-July." The United States has pledged to set up a political council of 25 to 30 Iraqis that will appoint heads of ministries and be consulted on major decisions taken by the occupation government.

Bremer also said the U.S.-led authority has asked airlines to submit applications to resume commercial service to Baghdad.

"Day by day, conditions in Iraq continue to improve," said Bremer. "Freedom becomes more and more entrenched and the dark days of the Baathist regime are further and further back in people's memories."

The comments come amid a worsening security situation and in the midst of a sweep by U.S. forces to clamp down on anti-American insurgents. The operation, dubbed Sidewinder, moved into its fourth day Wednesday. The U.S. Army conducted 25 raids and detained 25 suspects, a military statement said. No major fugitives of Saddam's regime were among them.

The increasing attacks have killed more than 23 U.S. soldiers and wounded dozens more since major combat was declared over on May 1. On Tuesday, assailants traveling in a vehicle in central Baghdad fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a U.S. military vehicle, wounding three soldiers. Another grenade slammed into a U.S. truck on a road south of Baghdad, injuring three soldiers, one of whom died at a field hospital overnight.

Many troops have become quicker to pull their triggers.

In western Baghdad, U.S. troops shot and killed two people when their car didn't stop at a checkpoint Tuesday, witnesses said. A U.S. military spokesman said he had heard about the incident but could not confirm it. Later, two civilians were shot and killed at another checkpoint, one by soldiers who feared he was an insurgent and another by a stray bullet, witnesses said.

Anger at the U.S. troops was on display in Fallujah, a restive town 35 miles west of Baghdad, where an explosion at a mosque killed at least 10 people. Locals said U.S. warplanes bombed a cinderblock building in the mosque's courtyard. U.S. military officials denied bombing the site, and said the blast was likely caused by explosives stored in the building.

In other news, assailants gunned down the chief of Saddam's tribe in the ousted leader's hometown of Tikrit a few weeks after he publicly disavowed Saddam. Although the motive was unclear, Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khattab had many enemies, the regional governor said.

Al-Khattab the leader of Saddam's Bani al-Nasiri tribe, was shot and killed Sunday afternoon while he rode in his car.

Governor Hussein al-Jubouri said al-Khattab's son, Odai, also was wounded when assailants fired from a pickup truck and fled the scene, authorities said Tuesday.

The killing highlighted the shifting alliances that have characterized Iraq as the country emerges from 35 years of brutal, one-man rule. Even those eager to distance themselves from Saddam often pay dearly for their past links to him.

Al-Khattab "had many enemies and he had confiscated a lot of properties and killed many people," the governor said, adding, "The person who killed him could have taken revenge."

Several Tikrit residents said the killers could have been Saddam loyalists angered at the tribal leader's public disavowal of the ousted dictator.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.