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Explosion rocks Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad; Firefights in Baghdad kill two U.S. soldiers

Updated:

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A powerful car bomb exploded outside the Jordanian Embassy in the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing between seven and 12 people and wounding 52, many of them seriously, hospital and rescue officials said.

Later Thursday, a fierce gun battle broke out in central Baghdad, with at least one American casualty. The battle followed a firefight the night before in which two American soldiers were killed, the military announced.

The deaths Wednesday night ended a four-day period in which no U.S. forces had been killed and brought to 55 the number of U.S. troops killed in combat since May 1, when President Bush declared major fighting over. The two were killed in a battle in the Al Rashid section of Baghdad, and their translator was wounded, the U.S. Central Command said.

Thursday's gun battle erupted when a U.S. Humvee was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades. The soldiers returned fire into a two-story building, and at least eight more Humvees of Americans joined the fight. There was heavy machine gun and automatic rifle fire. Two helicopters hovered above.

One soldier was seen being evacuated from the firezone. U.S. forces stormed the building and emerged about five minutes later carrying their comrade. It was not immediately known if the soldier had been killed or wounded.

Before taking the building, the military allowed about 20 civilians inside to come out with their hands in the air. Some carried white handkerchiefs. After the soldiers attacked, the building began burning and was gutted.

Elsewhere, U.S. forces captured four suspected leaders of the anti-U.S. resistance in pre-dawn raids Thursday, the military said, a day after the Americans netted 18 suspected Saddam Hussein loyalists and found a huge stockpile of weapons.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, told a news conference the attack on the Jordanian Embassy was ``the worst on a soft target'' since Baghdad fell to American forces April 9.

The blast blew down one wall of the embassy and gutted nearby cars, hurling the mangled remains of one onto the roof of a nearby building. Two bodies were seen still sitting in some of the vehicles damaged in the blast.

Shortly after the blast, young Iraqi men stormed the embassy gate and began destroying pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah II and his late father, King Hussein. They were shouting anti-Jordanian chants, but were quickly dispersed by American forces and Iraqi police.

The bomb was believed to have been planted in a minibus parked outside the walled embassy compound and detonated remotely. The chassis of the minibus landed on top of three of the burned out cars.

The Jordanian consul, Karim Shushan, was among the wounded, said Ahmed al-Bakri, a doctor at the Yarmuk Hospital.

``I was sitting in the reception. I heard the first explosion, I ran out and then there was another explosion. Many employees were inside the embassy as well as Iraqis and Jordanians. Smoke filled the street,'' said Shaheed Mazloum, 50, an Iraqi guard at the embassy, who was treated at the al-Kharkh Hospital.

A Sudanese man working as a waiter at the embassy said about 30 people inside heard the explosion and many of them suffered minor injuries from the shock of the blast. He was bleeding from the left side of his face.

In Jordan, Information Minister Nabil al-Sharif condemned the ``cowardly terrorist attack.''

``This criminal act will only boost our determination to continue our support for the brotherly Iraqi people,'' he said.

Tensions between the neighboring countries have been high because of Jordan's support for the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

While Jordan is a major entry point into Iraq and remains a large trading partner, many Iraqis are resentful that Jordan dropped its support for Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, and allowed U.S. troops to use its soil as a base during the latest war.

King Abdullah II last week granted ``humanitarian asylum'' to two daughters of Saddam, whose husbands fled to Jordan in 1996 but were lured back home and killed by Saddam's regime in 1996.

In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, the U.S. military said one of the four Iraqis captured Thursday allegedly organized cells and paid and armed guerrilla fighters for attacks on U.S. forces in the town.

Also among the captured were two former Iraqi generals suspected of organizing guerrilla attacks nationwide and a suspected Fedayeen militia ringleader, said Lt. Col. Steve Russell of the 4th Infantry Division, which carried out the raids.

Russell declined to name any of them, but said one of the leaders was known as ``The Rock.''

In one of the raids, about 100 soldiers backed by four battle tanks surrounded a hotel while Apache attack helicopters circled overhead and

The troops brought 39 men out of the hotel and some neighboring buildings, releasing all but one after questioning them.

``If you fight against your government, we will hunt you down and kill you,'' Russell told the freed men through an interpreter.

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