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Two US Civilians Shot Dead in Iraq - 2004-03-11

In Iraq, two American civilians working for the U.S. Defense Department have been shot dead, along with their Iraqi translator, in a roadblock ambush.

The two Americans were killed near the town of Hillah, about 60 kilometers south of Baghdad, an area patrolled by Polish forces. A Polish officer says the incident occurred Tuesday evening when gunmen disguised as police at a roadblock stopped the vehicle the Americans were traveling in.

Several Iraqis were later reported arrested in connection with the killings, which Dan Senor, spokesman for U.S. administrator Paul Bremer says is being turned over to the FBI for investigation.

"This was a targeted act of terrorism and as such Ambassador Bremer has requested an FBI team be deployed to lead the investigation," he said.

Whether the Americans were singled out as targets is not clear. U.S. military officials say they are still in the process of finding out exactly what happened. But they were the first American civilians working for the U.S. administration in Baghdad to have been reported killed in Iraq since the start of the war nearly a year ago.

In a separate incident Tuesday night in the town of Nasiriyah, a coalition spokesman says four Iraqi policemen were killed in a gun battle with a Shiite militia," he said. "Iraqi police are eventually supposed to take over security operations from coalition forces. But in a conference call with reporters from the Iraqi capital Wednesday, the commander of the 82nd Airborne, General Charles Swannack, complained Iraqi police are not getting the equipment they need to fully carry out their duties.

He suggested U.S. commanders in the field start providing the materiel on their own. "I would probably go ahead and start buying the body armor, the radios and the vehicles myself," he said.

And, he says the biggest challenge in parts of Western Iraq is preventing terrorist groups from gaining a foothold, an effort complicated by the fact that there are not enough vehicles to adequately patrol Iraq's borders. "We've been able to generate the border forces. We still don't have the SUV'S necessary for them to go ahead and work," he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military is planning to conduct an autopsy on the body of Abu Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Front, who died in U-S custody in Iraq Monday after being captured by American forces there last year. General Mark Kimmitt told reporters as soon as the results are known, they will be released. "We certainly expect to confirm that Mr. Abbas died of natural causes," he said.

Abu Abbas is best known for masterminding the 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in the Mediterranean in which elderly American Leon Klinghoffer was killed and thrown overboard. Abbas had been living in Iraq under the protection of Saddam Hussein's government in recent years, after being convicted in absentia in Italy for the Klinghoffer murder.