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U.S. steps up offensive in Iraq
( 2003-11-15 10:17) (Agencies)

U.S. firepower hammered targets in Iraq for the third day Friday as part of an intense operation intended to destroy the insurgency against the U.S.-led coalition.

A U.S. Apache helicopter patrols the Tikrit area Friday.

A 1st Armored Division spokesman said the third day of Operation Iron Hammer began Friday afternoon with five strikes.

In addition to Iron Hammer, the 4th Infantry Division has launched Operation Ivy Cyclone north of Baghdad, and the 82nd Airborne Division's Task Force All American is operating to the west.

President Bush said Friday that his administration's strategy is working in Iraq.

"We're going to stay the course," Bush said in Washington, repeating his commitment to keep troops in Iraq "until the job is done."

Yet Friday also brought news of rising U.S. casualties.

A soldier was killed and two others wounded when their Humvee struck a roadside bomb while they were on patrol in Baghdad, the U.S. military said.

The three soldiers from the 1st Armored Division were evacuated shortly after the explosion around 8:20 a.m. The military said the soldier died at a hospital.

The death brings to 44 the number of U.S. troops killed this month in Iraq. A total of 404 U.S. forces have been killed since the start of the war.

Also on Friday, two soldiers were wounded in western Baghdad when another Humvee hit a roadside bomb, according to Lt. Col. Eric Nantz.

On Thursday, a civilian and two soldiers were killed, and another civilian and six U.S. soldiers were wounded.

The civilian casualties occurred when a convoy of U.S. contractors came under fire on a highway outside Balad, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of Baghdad, a 4th Infantry Division spokesman said Friday, attributing the attack to loyalists to the former regime.

The military is releasing no details about the civilians, pending notification of their families.

The two soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack on their convoy north of Samarra, between Baghdad and Tikrit, a 4th Infantry Division spokesman said. Three soldiers were also wounded, the spokesman said.

All five were in the 4th Infantry Division's Task Force Iron Horse, charged with ferreting out regime loyalists and former leaders.

Three other soldiers were hurt late Thursday in a rocket attack east of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, a U.S. Central Command statement said. They were members of the 82nd Airborne's Task Force All American.

Seven Iraqis killed in attack
North of Tikrit, U.S. Army teams struck at a rocket launch site that threatened a Task Force Iron Horse base, a spokesman said Friday.

Lt. Col. Bill MacDonald said seven Iraqi insurgents were killed and another wounded as troops uncovered hundreds of missiles.

MacDonald said an AH-64 Apache helicopter first attacked the site Thursday evening after observing the operations.

A patrol sent to secure the site found three destroyed vehicles, including a flatbed truck carrying 50 missiles, MacDonald said.

A further search of the area -- about 12 miles (20 kilometers) northwest of Tikrit -- turned up two nearby bunkers filled with just under 1,000 BM-21 missiles that would be fired from a multiple rocket launcher, MacDonald said.

The wounded attacker was treated, and the bodies of the seven dead were taken to an Iraqi police station for identification and notification of next of kin.

Operation Iron Hammer
In Baghdad, the 1st Armored Division continued Operation Iron Hammer, an offensive targeting Saddam loyalists and other insurgents.

As part of the operation, Air Force AC-130U Spooky gunships struck a former Republican Guard building Thursday night that was used to launch attacks on U.S. forces, a division statement said.

U.S. troops have been attacked from the building twice recently, military officials said.

The operation began Wednesday, shortly after guerrillas attacked Italian military police headquarters in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, killing 18 Italians and at least eight Iraqis.

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