updated 12/26/2003 10:44:48 PM ET 2003-12-27T03:44:48

Four American soldiers were killed in bomb blasts and a mortar attack, authorities said Friday, bringing the U.S. death toll in Iraq this week to 10 — violence serving as a reminder that insurgents remain defiant despite the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Rebel gunmen also assassinated a Sunni Muslim tribal leader who backed the coalition near a mosque in the northern town of Mosul. Anti-U.S. guerrillas have targeted Iraqi police and other officials who cooperate with the U.S.-led occupation authorities.

One American GI died Friday as he tried to defuse a homemade bomb in Baqouba, 30 miles north of Baghdad in an area serving as a power base for Saddam loyalists.

Capt. Jefferson Wolfe of the Army's 4th Infantry Division said the bomb blew as the soldier worked on it. Such explosives are a favored weapon of rebels, who leave them on roadsides and detonate them as military convoys pass.

The guerrillas used that tactic Friday near Balad, north of Baghdad, setting off a bomb that killed a second soldier, a U.S. military spokeswoman said.

Baqouba attack
The U.S. military earlier reported that a third soldier had been killed Friday, but military officials later said the report was wrong and that they had confused the incidents in Baqouba and Balad.

The other two deaths came Thursday but were first reported Friday. Two soldiers were killed as Iraqi insurgents shelled a U.S. base near Baqouba and four were wounded, Maj. Josslyn Aberle of the 4th Infantry Division said Friday.

Ten U.S. soldiers have died in hostile action since Monday, raising to 322 the number killed since the invasion in March. Officials say it is hard to track the hundreds of Iraqis killed since most are buried within 24 hours in accordance with Islamic law.

Also Friday, three soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division were wounded in an ambush in Mosul when their convoy came under small arms fire, said Maj. Trey Cate, the division spokesman.

The soldiers were searching the city's streets for bombs, Cate said. The soldiers returned fire but did not catch their attackers, Cate said. Witnesses said a taxi driver was killed in the firefight. Cate could not confirm that death.

Contempt for Saddam
Meanwhile, Iraqis continued to show hatred for Saddam, who was captured about two weeks ago, as hundreds stoned a bronze bust of the former dictator in Baghdad's al-Sadr slum. Previously called Saddam City, it is home to about 2 million of Iraq's majority Shiite Muslim sect who had been cruelly repressed during Saddam's regime.

"Iraqis want to show their rejection and contempt of Saddam ... Today, Saddam was tried and punished symbolically," Shiekh Qassim Ahmed said at the scene.

On Thursday, two Polish soldiers were wounded when assailants hit their convoy with a remote-controlled mine, Col. Zdzislaw Gnatowski told the Polish news agency PAP. The Poles command a multinational force of 9,500 soldiers in south-central Iraq that includes about 2,400 Polish troops.

In Baghdad, a car exploded on the road to the airport, killing its two occupants in what was probably a premature explosion in a suicide bombing attempt, U.S. soldiers at the scene said.

In the Mosul assassination, gunmen in a speeding car shot and killed Sheik Talal al-Khalidi and his 23-year-old son, Saad Talal, said another son, Khalid, who witnessed the attack. A brother of the sheik was injured, and the assailants fled.

Al-Khalidi, 57, was a member of the loyalist National Assembly under Saddam who joined a new local governing council that works with U.S. troops. He led the Beni Khalid tribe, which also has members in Jordan, Qatar and Syria.

Spate of Christmas day attacks
Friday's events follow Christmas Day attacks in Baghdad in which rebels firing rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and rockets struck a hotel housing foreigners, two banks, the Iranian and Turkish embassies, a car park near the headquarters of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and the gates of a U.S. Army base.

The strikes had more symbolic than military impact, injuring a woman and her daughter sleeping in an apartment. Damage was limited.

Authorities arrested five men who were spotted from an aircraft and believed to have launched two rockets that hit the coalition car park, the military said Friday.

Meanwhile, Japan sent a small advance team Friday to prepare for the deployment of about 1,000 non-combat personnel including more than 500 ground troops in that country's first operation in a conflict zone since World War II. And defense officials in Ukraine said that country's contingent of 1,650 troops in Iraq will be increased by about 150 aviators and six helicopters in early February.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry also announced the capture Friday of a former Iraqi security officer accused of heading a cell of insurgents involved in attacks on coalition forces. It said Issam Ali Hamood Kanani was arrested in his house in Kut in southern Iraq, along with documents and weapons.

More than 200 people have been arrested since Saddam's capture Dec. 13, many using information in documents seized from Saddam, according to the military.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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