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25 Insurgents, 1 American Soldier Killed in Rebel Attack on Outpost in Mosul

BAGHDAD (AP) -- American troops and warplanes repulsed a large insurgent attack against an outpost in the restive northern city of Mosul, killing at least 25 rebels, the U.S. military said Thursday. One U.S. soldier died in hospital after the firefight and 20 were wounded.

The clash began Wednesday afternoon after a truck approached the base and American troops opened fire. The truck, laden with an estimated 450 kilograms of explosives, blew up just outside, Lt.-Col. Paul Hastings said.

Reinforcements came under fire by guerrillas using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and moving in squads of between 10 and 12. A heavily armoured Stryker vehicle that had left the outpost moments before the truck bomb came across seven roadside bombs that had been laid out for its return, and exploded them safely, Hastings said.

The Americans then called in strikes by F-18 and F-16 fighter jets, which launched three Maverick missiles and conducted several strafing runs against the insurgents. The result was 25 insurgents and one American soldier killed. Twenty Americans were wounded, but 17 returned to duty within hours.

Hastings said the assault appeared to be better co-ordinated than past rebel attacks and attributed it to the insurgents trying to put new pressure on U.S. and Iraqi forces ahead of Jan. 30 elections that the guerrillas have sworn to sabotage.

"The terrorists are growing more desperate in their attempts to derail the elections and they're trying to put it all on the line and give it all they can," Hastings said.

Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, has become a hotbed of insurgent activity in the recent months. Fourteen U.S. soldiers died Dec. 21, when a suicide bomber walked into a mess tent in Mosul packed with soldiers having lunch. In all, 22 people were killed and dozens wounded in the blast. The Ansar al-Sunnah Army rebel group claimed responsibility for the attack.

The latest clash in Mosul came as U.S. troops launched a new offensive south of Baghdad in an area dubbed the "triangle of death" in an apparent effort to secure the region ahead of parliamentary elections Jan. 30.

Brig.-Gen. Jeffery Hammond, assistant commander of the 1st Cavalry Division that controls Baghdad, said Wednesday that U.S. troops were focusing on areas around Mahmoudiya, a town about 40 kilometres south of the capital.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have come under repeated attacks by car bombs, rockets and small arms fire in the area. The latest operation followed a weeklong campaign in November and early December to root out insurgents in the same region.

The latest fighting came as an insurgent group that claimed responsibility for the Dec. 21 suicide bombing of the U.S. base warned Iraqis not to take part in next month's parliamentary elections.

"We also warn everyone to keep away from all military targets, whether they were bases, American Zionist patrols, or the forces of the pagan guard, and police," Ansar al-Sunnah said in a statement released Wednesday.

In another statement on its website Thursday, Ansar al-Sunnah and two other rebel groups warned that democracy is un-Islamic. The statement said that democracy could lead to passing un-Islamic laws, such as permitting homosexual marriage, if the majority agrees to it.

"Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit," the statement said. "This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God - Muslims' doctrine."

The warning followed Monday's audiotape statement from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden urging Iraqis to boycott the elections and praising attacks against Americans and those who co-operate with them.

Insurgents have intensified their strikes against the security forces of Iraq's U.S.-installed interim government as part of a continuing campaign to disrupt the elections for a constitutional assembly.

Government troops are supposed to protect polling stations, and the insurgents' strategy - which includes attacking police stations, checkpoints and patrols - appears aimed at demonstrating the security forces are incapable of handling the job.

On Wednesday morning, militants ambushed an elite Iraqi police unit in a Baghdad neighbourhood known for its loyalty to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, killing 29 people, most of them civilians.

The militants set off a huge explosion in the staunchly Baathist neighbourhood of Ghaziliya as a contingent of special police and national guards were about to raid a house after receiving an anonymous tip. The blast killed 22 civilians and seven officers, and damaged a dozen nearby homes, a police spokesman said.

By SLOBODAN LEKIC


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