updated 8/12/2005 9:35:44 PM ET 2005-08-13T01:35:44

A blast Friday near a mosque west of Baghdad killed four people, including three children, and wounded at least 19 other people, police and hospital officials said.

Iraqis blamed U.S. forces, but an American spokesman disputed the Iraqi claim.

The blast occurred on the outskirts of the town of Nasaf, near Ramadi, an insurgent center 70 miles west of Baghdad, according to police Lt. Mohammed al-Obeidi and Dr. Mohammed al-Ani of Ramadi General Hospital.

A hospital official, Ali Taleb, said a U.S. armored vehicle fired near the Ibn al-Jawzi mosque, about 15 miles east of Ramadi, after worshippers left the building following Friday prayers.

U.S. Marine Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a military spokesman, disputed the account. Pool said two roadside bombs exploded near a U.S. convoy in the Ramadi area. Five gunmen and one civilian driver were killed in the subsequent exchange of fire, Pool said.

He said the incident occurred in a rural area with “no towns or mosques for miles.”

However, Taleb said 14 of the 19 people wounded in the blast were children.

Witnesses to incident, aftermath
An Associated Press photographer at the Ramadi General Hospital saw at least three children with serious wounds being treated, including one who appeared to be in shock. One young boy had suffered a head wound.

Sufiyan al-Dulaimi, a 32-year-old resident of Nasaf, said he was stepping out of the mosque when he heard an explosion, then saw a U.S. armored vehicle about a half-mile away fire and hit a wall of the mosque.

The violence continued ahead of the Monday deadline for Iraq’s parliament to approve a draft constitution, which will be put to the voters in a referendum Oct. 15.

Washington hopes the charter will convince Sunni Arabs that they have a stake in a new, democratic Iraq and lure them away from the insurgency. That would boost chances that the Americans and their international partners can begin sending soldiers home next year.

But hopes of meeting the deadline worsened after Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the biggest Shiite party, called Thursday for establishment of a regional autonomous government in Shiite areas of central and southern Iraq.

Kurds are already demanding the constitution enshrine federalism so they can maintain their self-ruled region in the north. Sunni Arabs oppose federalism, fearing it will lead to the disintegration of the country.

On Friday, many Sunni preachers urged their followers to register for the constitutional referendum but said they should vote against the charter if it includes federalism.

More U.S. service members die
In other violence, a U.S. soldier was killed Friday in a roadside bombing while on patrol in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

Two American service members were injured when their Apache helicopter crashed Friday near Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad. The U.S. command gave no reason for the crash, but Iraqi police said it was believed to be mechanical and not hostile fire.

In addition, two truck drivers were missing after gunmen ambushed their vehicles, which were delivering supplies to a U.S. base west of Ramadi, al-Obeidi said. The nationalities of the drivers were not known.

Insurgents have frequently attacked civilian convoys and kidnapped drivers in a bid to prevent private companies from doing business with American forces in Iraq.

The number of roadside bomb attacks against American convoys has doubled in the past year, the commander of U.S. transportation and other logistics forces in Iraq said Friday.

Growing attacks along supply routes
Army Brig. Gen. Yves J. Fontaine, commander of the 1st Corps Support Command, told reporters at the Pentagon in a video news conference from Iraq that the number of insurgent attacks along supply routes has grown to about 30 per week.

However, U.S. casualty rates have declined because extra protective armor has been installed on supply trucks and other vehicles in the transportation fleet, he said.

In northern Iraq, gunmen killed at least three civilians and wounded two others in an attack on a fuel tanker in Mosul, police said.

Iraqi troops in Mosul killed three insurgents who were trying to break into a polling station to be used for the constitutional referendum, police Col. Khourshid Zibari said. One insurgent was wearing a belt loaded with explosives.

And south of Kirkuk, two roadside bombings killed one police officer and a taxi driver, police Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qader said. Five others people were wounded.

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