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US Troops Kill 2 Iraqi Weapons Dealers in Tikrit - 2003-08-08

The day after a powerful bomb blast in Baghdad that killed at least 17 people, U.S. military officials say soldiers killed two Iraqis and wounded two others who were dealing in explosives and other weapons in Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit. In Baghdad, an American soldier died of a gunshot wound received while he was on guard duty.

A military officer responsible for operations in Tikrit says U.S. forces received a tip-off from Iraqis that people have been trading weapons and ammunition at a local market on Fridays.

Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell told reporters that the U.S. military has made clear to Iraqis that when they buy and carry weapons, they become combatants, subject to attack. So, at the market on Friday, when four men began unloading weapons and what appeared to be bomb making equipment, U.S. soldiers opened fire.

Lieutenant Colonel Russell says, after the shooting, soldiers found explosives and Kalashnikov rifles in the car.

Meanwhile, the coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq says U.S. troops are securing the site outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, where a powerful bomb exploded Thursday.

Chief coalition spokesman Charles Heatley says it is the Iraqi police and Jordanian authorities who are taking the lead role in investigating the case, with some assistance from the coalition.

"The Iraqi police clearly have some expertise but they will need our assistance," he said. "We are providing assistance to Iraqi police across the board, in terms of training, in terms of equipment, and we will clearly provide assistance in the investigation of this atrocity."

Mr. Heatley says the Iraqi police have a special operations unit, but no anti-terrorist experts.

Some U.S. officials have suggested the militant group Ansar al-Islam might be responsible for the bombing. But coalition military spokesman Colonel Guy Shields says the coalition is not ready to officially blame any group.

"At this point we are not saying which group," said Col. Shields. "Obviously, it is a terrorist group or individual. But we cannot specifically say that it was that group."

Ansar al-Islam has reportedly reconstituted itself in Iraq, after U.S. troops and Kurdish fighters knocked it out of action early in the war. The Bush administration says the group has ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

In another development in Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command reports one American soldier died of a gunshot wound received in the Mansur district late Thursday, while on guard duty. It says the incident is under investigation.