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Attackers Assassinate Iraqi Mayor in Sunni Heartland - 2003-07-16

An Iraqi mayor seen as close to U.S. and British forces has been assassinated as he drove through his small town in Iraq's Sunni heartland. The attack is just one of several on a particularly violent day in Iraq, that included the first attempt to hit a U.S. military aircraft with a surface to air missile.

A U.S. military spokesman said the mayor of the town of Hadithah, Mohammed Nayil al-Jurayfi, was shot dead by unknown assailants. One of his nine sons also died in the attack.

Reports said some residents in the town had accused the mayor of cooperating with coalition forces.

The town is located in northwestern Iraq, a largely Sunni Muslim area and a stronghold for the former Saddam Hussein regime.

Earlier in the day, a U.S. soldier was killed during a rocket-propelled grenade attack on his convoy, on a highway just north of Baghdad. Two fellow soldiers suffered wounds from the incident.

The killing marks the 33rd U.S. military fatality since the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1.

Another U.S. serviceman was wounded in a separate attack, in which a grenade was tossed from a car at soldiers guarding a bank in central Baghdad.

That attack took a much heavier toll on Iraqis at the scene, claiming the life of a young boy and an Iraqi bank guard, as well as wounding six Iraqi bystanders.

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. military reported that someone fired a surface-to-air missile at a transport plane as it was landing at Baghdad International Airport. The missile did not hit the plane, and the military has not provided any details about who fired it.

The wave of violence comes 24 years to the day after Saddam Hussein seized power. Thursday will mark the anniversary of the day Saddam's Baath Party first took power in 1968.

A witness to the bank attack, Rihab Ali, said Baathist remnants are said to be plotting to mark the occasions with violence against coalition forces.

Mr. Ali said Iraqis have heard that Saddam loyalists have threatened to launch 100 attacks against U.S. forces during the week. He said the Iraqi people are frightened.

Coalition forces have been bracing for possible attacks, because of the week's historical significance.