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U.S. troops mistakenly kill 3 Iraqi police

U.S. troops reportedly killed three Iraqi police officers on Saturday,  while gunmen attempted to assassinate a former official of Saddam Hussein's Baath party.

U.S. troops mistakenly shot and killed three Iraqi police officers and wounded two others, thinking they were bandits, an Iraqi police officer said Saturday. In other violence, a former official of Saddam Hussein's Baath party is in critical condition after gunmen riding by on a bicycle fired on her and killed her son in the southern Shiite holy city of Najaf.

The policemen were manning a checkpoint on a road in the Sleiman Beg area, 55 miles south of Kirkuk city, in northeast Iraq, when U.S. troops opened fire on them around midnight Friday, said Lt. Salam Zangana of the Kirkuk police force. He said two other policemen were wounded.

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military.

In the same region Friday night, Iraqi police shot and wounded two people they said were trying to place roadside bombs on a route used by the U.S. army around al-Hawija, a town 15 miles west of Kirkuk.

Col. Muslim Hassan of the Kirkuk police force told The Associated Press that the wounded rebels managed to escape, and U.S. soldiers later defused the two bombs.

Meanwhile in Najaf, gunmen attempted to assassinate Damiyah Abbas, a provincial party official believed to have participated in the repression of a 1991 Shiite uprising against the government of Saddam, who violently repressed Iraq's Shiite majority.

Police initially said she had died in the attack, as she was leaving her home, then said she was hospitalized in critical condition. Her 5-year-old son was killed instantly, they said.

Another Baath party official accused in the repression was lynched by an angry crowd and killed on Wednesday in Najaf, 100 miles southwest of Baghdad.

Suspected bombmaker arrested
In Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, U.S. troops arrested a suspected bombmaker on Saturday.

The man is believed to be connected to a recent bomb explosion that injured three American soldiers.

A U.S. military spokesman said the raid came after troops on routine patrol in a suburb of Tikrit discovered bomb-making materials in a grocery shop.

There were posters of Saddam in the shop, prompting the Americans to take a closer look. In a basket of vegetables, they discovered plastic explosives, an improvised explosive device ready to be activated, fuses, blasting caps, hand grenades and other bomb-making materials.

U.S.-led naval forces, meanwhile, said they seized caches of heroin and amphetamines after raiding two boats in the Gulf on Saturday.

A U.S. military statement said the raid netted about 150 pounds of methamphetamines on one boat and about 85 pounds of a substance believed to be pure heroin from the other vessel. The raids came after U.S.-led forces grabbed nearly $10 million worth of hashish on December 15.

Ambush on U.S. administrator's convoy
U.S. officials in Baghdad belatedly admitted that rebels attacked U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer’s convoy two weeks ago, exploding a roadside bomb and opening fire with small arms. The Dec. 6 attack took place the same day U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was visiting Baghdad.

Bremer’s convoy sped away from the shooting near Baghdad airport, and no one was hurt.

Dan Senor, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said it appeared “a random opportunistic attack” and not an assassination attempt.

“As you can see, it didn’t succeed,” Bremer told reporters Friday in the southern city of Basra.

Several attacks on U.S. forces and Iraqi police in recent days have claimed more than a dozen lives in Baghdad and in predominantly Sunni Muslim areas west and north of the capital that formed Saddam’s power base.

Friday morning, a homemade roadside bomb hit a U.S. truck northwest of Baghdad, wounding two American soldiers, said Capt. Tammy Galloway of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Attacks on Iraqis increase
Nevertheless, U.S. military officials said this week that there were fewer attacks on U.S.-led coalition forces over the past month while attacks on Iraqi civilians and security forces were increasing. Rebels have targeted Iraqis working with the U.S.-led occupation authorities.

On Friday, an explosion destroyed a west Baghdad branch office of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, the biggest party supported by Shiites, who comprise about 60 percent of Iraq’s 25 million people and who were brutally repressed by Saddam.

Rahim Jaber said the pre-dawn blast killed his elderly sister, who was sleeping when the roof of their home collapsed, and injured seven other people. The front part of the one-story building was a party office — some said an office of the party’s armed militia — and the back was occupied by people made homeless when the United States invaded.

Meanwhile tempers in Baghdad frayed as a gasoline shortage reached critical proportions in Baghdad. Mile-long lines of cars and 12-hour waits for fuel were common.

U.S. forces arrested 20 people and seized 28 gasoline tankers and nine propane trucks on Friday, saying they were involved in a black market operation in Baghdad. U.S. officials said rebels might be benefiting from illegal gasoline sales to fund their insurgency.

The official price of gasoline equates to about 5 U.S. cents a gallon, but can cost as much as $1.85 on the black market.