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3 US Soldiers Killed in Iraq as President Bush Seeks Support  for Reconstruction - 2003-09-18

The U.S. military says three American soldiers in Iraq have been killed after coming under fire while checking out a suspected weapons site near the town of Tikrit, the hometown of ousted leader Saddam Hussein and a stronghold of anti-coalition resistance. The attack follows an earlier ambush Thursday in which at least two American soldiers were injured in what witnesses say was a roadside bombing and a firefight with unidentified attackers west of Baghdad. These latest attacks come as diplomatic efforts intensify in the United States and Europe to secure more troops and international aid for rebuilding Iraq.

Details of what led to these two attacks are not yet clear but both occurred in areas of Iraq where there continues to be fierce resistance to the U.S. military presence.

A U.S. military spokesman says troops on patrol near Tikrit were investigating a site suspected of being used to launch rocket propelled grenades at American forces when they came under attack by small arms fire late Thursday.

Earlier, reports from the Iraqi town of Khaldiyah quoted residents as describing another attack on American forces as an ambush. U.S. military officials still do not know exactly happened there, only that it appears a convoy of military vehicles hit a roadside bomb and then came under fire from unidentified gunmen in the area.

At the Camp David retreat near Washington, President Bush discussed Iraq and the Middle East with Jordan's King Abdullah, ahead of what will be a flurry of Iraqi diplomacy next week when the president meets with world leaders at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Although Mr. Bush told reporters he does not expect a new Security Council resolution intended to give the U.N. a greater role in Iraq to be ready by then, he does expect European nations to agree to contribute money and troops to the reconstruction effort.

"Do I think we can count on the Europeans to provide? Yes, I think we're getting help and I would remind you that there are two multi-national divisions, one led by Britain, one led by Poland full of other European countries," he said.

But he stressed that more help is still needed. France and Germany, Europe's two largest economies - and two countries which led opposition to the war to topple Saddam Hussein - are now offering to help train and equip Iraqi police while at the same time calling for a rapid transfer of power to an Iraqi-led government in Baghdad. But at a meeting in Berlin Thursday, neither German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder nor French President Jacques Chirac suggested how much money Europe might be willing to contribute for Iraqi reconstruction.

The Bush administration had been hoping to raise several billion dollars at an Iraq donors' conference next month in Madrid, in addition to the nearly $90 billion the White House has requested from Congress. But both U.S. and European officials now say that target is not likely to be met, with many countries, at this stage at least, unwilling to contribute such large sums.