As US forces used major firepower to strike back at insurgents in Iraq, two more American soldiers have been reported killed in separate attacks north of Baghdad.
The US military says one soldier died and two were wounded this (Monday) morning when they were attacked with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades near the town of Balad, about 70 kilometers north of the capital. Another soldier was killed by a roadside bomb a few kilometers away.
US forces in Iraq have been using more force in recent days to strike at suspected guerrilla hideouts in Baghdad and the hometown of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
The American officer in charge of an operation in Tikrit (Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Russell) said he wanted to show Saddam loyalists that any armed resistance will be crushed. He told one reporter (from Reuters), "the message is give up, it's over."
U-S troops fired mortars and at least one satellite-guided missile at buildings the coalition thinks were used by insurgents in Tikrit. American tanks and attack helicopters also fired at enemy targets.
The attacks in Tikrit are part of a stepped-up offensive around Iraq in recent days to strike back at Saddam loyalists who have been attacking coalition forces.
Near the Syrian border, meanwhile, US forces say they captured six suspected foreign fighters who were trying to cross from Iraq into Syria. A military statement said one of the men was killed after he tried to attack a guard. The statement said the suspects were carrying a large amount of money, airline tickets and passports.
The United States and the Iraqi Governing Council have announced plans for a handover of political power to an Iraqi provisional government by the middle of next year. But President Bush said Sunday the security situation, and not the political process, will determine when U-S forces depart.
Meanwhile, the Reuters news agency reports from Washington that C-I-A analysts have been unable, so far, to authenticate a new audiotape purporting to be from the ousted Iraqi leader. The tape was broadcast on Arab television Sunday and called on Iraqis to drive coalition troops from the country.