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US Soldier Killed, 2 Wounded N. of Baghdad - 2004-01-03

The U.S. military in Iraq says one American soldier has been killed and two more were wounded in a mortar attack north of Baghdad.

A U.S. military spokesman says mortar rounds hit the U.S. base near the town of Balad, about 75 kilometers north of Baghdad, late Friday. Three soldiers were hit by shrapnel, and one of them was killed. The military says the other two are in stable condition.

A spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division says troops searched the area afterward, and detained six suspects. He would give no other details.

The attack near Balad came as U.S. airplanes unleashed a new round of heavy bombardment in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on Friday night.

Two C-130 gunships circled high overhead, sending volleys of rockets and heavy machine gun fire into the city below. It was a deafening display of firepower.

Residents of the al-Dora district in southern Baghdad say the aircraft appeared to target largely uninhabited fields of date-palm trees around the edges of the neighborhood.

The U.S. military says the bombardment was part of Operation Iron Grip, which started about two and a half weeks ago, and has frequently been characterized by heavy artillery and rocket fire.

The deputy chief of military operations in Iraq, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, said the airpower used in Iron Grip concentrates on places insurgents have used to launch mortar attacks or hold meetings. But he said it is also a deliberate show of force.

"It also sends a very clear message to anybody who thinks that they can run around Baghdad without worrying about the consequences of firing RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades], firing mortars, so on and so forth, that there is a capability in the air that can quickly respond against anybody who would want to do harm to Iraqi citizens or coalition forces," he said.

General Kimmitt said attacks against American troops and other targets appear to be getting more sophisticated. He said insurgents are now often using a combination of weapons, including roadside bombs, small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in the same assault.