updated 3/1/2004 1:40:07 PM ET 2004-03-01T18:40:07

In a statement attributed to rebels fighting the U.S.-led occupation, insurgents pledged not to attack Iraqi police unless they help coalition forces.

The statement, received by The Associated Press on Monday, also warned Iraqis to stay away from American convoys.

Signed by the “Mujahedeen in Iraq,” the statement directed its warning at members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and threatened anyone else who worked with the coalition, including people who hand over illegal weapons or spy on insurgents.

The statement promised insurgents would “hit the occupying forces wherever they are.”

Insurgents have stepped up attacks on Iraqis cooperating with U.S. forces, particularly police and other security forces. Last month, two U.S Army Humvees were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades as they tried to visit a police station in Ramadi, west of Baghdad.

U.S. officials indicated Monday that the military commitment in Iraq could stretch into next year, telling The Associated Press in Washington that four major Army National Guard units had been placed on alert for possible deployment late this year or in early 2005.

Explosion in Baghdad
Meanwhile, a large explosion was heard Monday in central Baghdad, apparently from the vicinity of the headquarters of the U.S. occupation authority.

Shortly after the blast, a Black Hawk helicopter circled over the green zone, the U.S. compound that includes Saddam Hussein’s former Republican Palace and serves as headquarters of the U.S.-led coalition.

The U.S. command had no information about the explosion, but Akram Haider, a street vendor, said it appeared that a mortar shell was fired from the east bank of the Tigris River and exploded on the western side near the southern edge of the green zone.

Haider said it appeared that the target may have been old fuel tanks.

Coalition soldier killed
As of Sunday, 547 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the Defense Department. Of those, 378 died as a result of hostile action, and 169 others died of non-hostile causes, the department said.

The overwhelming majority of coalition casualties since the start of the Iraq conflict in March have been Americans. The British military has reported 58 deaths, while Italy has reported 17, Spain eight, Bulgaria five, Thailand two and Estonia, Denmark, Ukraine and Poland one apiece.

The Estonian soldier was killed over the weekend when a roadside bomb exploded while his platoon was on patrol, an Estonian government spokeswoman said Sunday. He was the first Estonian soldier to die from hostile fire since independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The soldier, Junior Sgt. Andres Nuiamae, 21, was the first coalition soldier killed by hostile fire in Iraq since Feb. 19, when a pair of Americans were killed in a roadside bombing near Khaldiyah, 50 miles west of the capital.

“This is a very painful reminder that the situation in Iraq has not stabilized by today and common efforts by coalition troops to restore peace are necessary,” Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts said. “We can never overestimate his courage and readiness to serve both Estonia and all the countries and people that hold dear freedom and democracy.”

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