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3 US Soldiers, 2 Iraqis Die in Blast - 2004-01-17


A roadside bomb exploded Saturday morning north of Baghdad, killing three U.S. soldiers and two Iraqis. Two other American soldiers were wounded in the ambush.

The military says the patrol was on a mission looking for explosive devices when the roadside bomb exploded, hitting the lead armored vehicle in the convoy and setting it on fire.

The ambush occurred near Taji, some 30 kilometers north of the Iraqi capital.

The military says three Iraqis fleeing the scene in a truck were subsequently detained, and troops seized bomb-making equipment from the vehicle.

Taji is located in the so-called Sunni triangle, which runs north and west of Baghdad, where insurgents have carried out most of the deadly attacks aimed at coalition forces over the past eight months.

The military says, despite continuing attacks against coalition troops, the number of daily incidents has been declining.

The deadly ambush came a day after the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, met with President Bush and his top advisors in Washington to discuss the transition of power to Iraqis later this year.

Mr. Bremer said the United States is going ahead with plans to hand over power on schedule by June 30.

The current plan calls for a transition to an interim Iraqi government that will be chosen by delegates selected in regional caucuses, or meetings. But that plan has come under harsh criticism from Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who wants direct elections for a new government.

Mr. Bremer says he is willing to consider what he calls "refinements" to the transition plan, but he says the United States feels the end of June is too soon to hold a direct vote in Iraq.

Mr. Bremer and the head of Iraq's Governing Council are to meet with U.N. Secretary General Koffi Annan on Monday to discuss a possible return of U.N. staff to Iraq and a possible future U.N. role to help with the transition process.