BAGHDAD, Iraq (Aug. 7) - A massive car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on Thursday, killing at least seven people and wounding 52, hospital and rescue workers said. Two U.S. soldiers died in a gun battle in another part of the Iraqi capital.
The two soldiers of the 1st Armored Division were killed in the Al Rashid district of Baghdad Wednesday night, U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. reported. A translator with them was wounded.
Their deaths ended a four-day stretch in which the military said there had been no combat fatalities. The number of U.S. forces killed in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared major fighting over, now stands at 55. The military said it was withholding their names until family members were notified.
Shortly after the blast at the Jordanian Embassy, young Iraqi men stormed the gate and began destroying pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah II and his late father, King Hussein. They shouted anti-Jordanian chants, but were quickly dispersed by American forces and Iraqi police.
The bomb was believed to have been planted in a minibus parked outside the walled embassy compound and detonated remotely. Many cars were gutted and two bodies were seen still sitting in the vehicles.
An American tank was parked outside the embassy compound on the west edge of Baghdad. Soldiers in armored vehicles and Humvees cordoned off the area.
Mandoh Gaahi, who witnessed the explosion, said the blast shook buildings and broke windows hundreds of yards away.
Two of the dead were still inside the shells of two cars. One mangled vehicle could be seen on top of a building next to the embassy.
A Sudanese man working as a waiter at the embassy said about 30 people inside heard the explosion and many of them suffered minor injuries. He was bleeding from the left side of his face. One wall of the embassy compound was blown down.
Tensions between the neighboring countries have been high because of Jordan's support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq. Many Iraqis are resentful that Jordan dropped its support for Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, and allowed U.S. troops to use its soil as a base during the latest war.
King Abdullah II last week granted ``humanitarian asylum'' to two daughters of Saddam, whose husbands took refuge in Jordan but were lured back and killed by Saddam's regime in 1996.
In Tikrit, U.S. forces captured a suspected leader of Saddam's loyalist militia after storming a workers' hostel in a series of pre-dawn raids that netted four men suspected of plotting attacks against coalition forces, the military said.
The man, who was identified only by his nickname ``The Rock,'' allegedly organized cells, paid guerrilla fighters and armed them with rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47 assault rifles for attacks on U.S. forces in Saddam's hometown of Tikrit and surrounding areas, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, commander of the 22nd Infantry Regiment's 1st Battalion, which executed the raids.
Two men believed to be former Iraqi generals who organized guerrilla attacks nationwide were also captured in raids in a village south of Tikrit, along with an additional suspected Fedayeen militia ringleader, Russell said. He said he could not name them or say where they were captured.
Each raid increases the pressure on Saddam by triggering a chain reaction of tips leading to operations that further eat away at the remnants of the dictator's support network, Russell said,
``We are eroding all of the support of the former regime and as we continue to do so, it just collapses,'' he said. ``Each raid seems to feed on itself now.''
Thursday's raids were the product of a series of tips from residents who told soldiers that the suspects had held a meeting and then helped pinpoint their locations, Russell said.
As Apache attack helicopters circled above, about 100 soldiers backed by four battle tanks, eight Bradley fighting vehicles surrounded the hostel, which was above a block of shops, in the raid witnessed by The Associated Press. They brought 39 men out from the building and neighboring tenements.
Many of the men were shirtless and barefoot as they sat cross legged with their hands tied behind their backs while soldiers interrogated them under flashlight beams before dawn. After finding their target, soldiers released 38 of the men with an apology and a warning.
The U.S. military had earlier announced the arrest of another suspected guerrilla organizer. The man, nabbed Tuesday by Iraqi police officers, was the brother of a Saddam bodyguard captured by U.S. forces on July 29, Russell said.
Russell did not identify the man, but said he was the brother of Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Musslit, who was believed to have detailed knowledge of Saddam's hiding places.
Eighteen other suspected guerrillas were arrested in seven raids conducted across north-central Iraq over a 24-hour period ending Wednesday, 4th Infantry spokeswoman Maj. Josslyn Aberle said.
She also said soldiers uncovered a large weapons cache 25 miles northeast of Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, on Sunday. It included two 20-foot missiles, 3,000 mortar rounds, 250 anti-tank rockets and almost 2,000 artillery rounds.
She said an Iraqi informant led soldiers to the cache.
In Diwaniyah, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Spanish Brig. Gen. Alfredo Cardona set up a base camp for troops from Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic scheduled to arrive within weeks.
``We're repairing old barracks, setting up tents and installing air conditioners. We should be ready by Sept. 1,'' he said.
Their arrival will let U.S. troops head home from the region.
But new U.S. troops prepared to deploy. The 10th Mountain Division at New York's Fort Drum said Wednesday it would deploy another 600 troops to Iraq.
08/07/03 06:53 EDT