The violence in Fallujah, a hotbed of support for Saddam Hussein, was the latest in three deadly days for the U.S. military in postwar Iraq — further evidence the country remains a perilous place for its American occupiers.
Eight American soldiers have died in Iraq since Sunday — in direct attacks, accidents and explosions. Nearly two dozen have been injured. Hours after the attack in Fallujah, two American military police officers were wounded in rocket-propelled grenade assaults on a Baghdad police station.
"You've always got to be worried," said Sgt. Ariel Saez, 28, a soldier with the 1st Armored Division manning a Baghdad checkpoint. "You hear the gunshots constantly at night. It makes you wonder if it's one of us being put down. We always worry about it."
In other developments:
Whether recent attacks on Americans in Iraq are connected is unclear. The American general commanding troops in Baghdad said the attacks, which he blamed on extremists loyal to Saddam, appeared to be uncoordinated.
"It's very small groups — one or two people — in isolated attacks against our soldiers," said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, which fought its way to Baghdad and is now trying to keep the peace.
On Tuesday afternoon, six Iraqis were being interrogated about the shooting in Fallujah, a city where Saddam had many strong supporters — and a place where bitterness at the Americans has been particularly aggressive. Two Iraqi attackers were killed in the firefight.
"Who knows what they were thinking when they engaged U.S. soldiers?" said Maj. Randy Martin, a spokesman for the Army's V Corps. "I know we suffered casualties, and the enemy paid a price for those casualties."
Details of the incident, which happened around midnight at a Fallujah traffic checkpoint, some 30 miles west of Baghdad, were hazy.
Initial reports said the Americans were fired upon from many directions, including from a mosque, U.S. military officials said. But townspeople said only two men opened fire, and both were quickly cut down by American forces.
Martin said two vehicles had pulled up to the checkpoint together, and when a search of the first turned up weapons, men in the second vehicle opened fire and threw a grenade. The intensity of the assault "would suggest the possibility" that it had been coordinated by occupants of the two vehicles, said Capt. Tom Bryant, another V Corps spokesman.
U.S. troops captured six of the attackers, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
Fallujah's 200,000 residents benefited greatly from Saddam's regime, with its young men awarded positions in the Republican Guard or jobs in government-built factories.
Today, while much of Iraq appears to be outwardly accepting the U.S. presence, people in Fallujah is openly angry.
"Every Iraqi is ready to sacrifice his life for resistance," said Safa al-Jubair, a 27-year-old street vendor in Fallujah. "We are 26 million Iraqis and we are all resisting and, God willing, occupation will end."
Protests against the U.S. Army's presence in Fallujah turned violent twice in April when soldiers fired at crowds, killing 18 Iraqis and wounding at least 78. The United States said people in the crowds fired first, but Iraqis insisted no one shot at the Americans.
On Sunday alone, there were three ambushes against Americans in Baghdad, all along a highway between the city center and the airport, said Lt. Clint Mundinger, a U.S. Army intelligence officer.
In one, an explosive was placed onto the highway in the path of a Humvee carrying four U.S. soldiers and detonated as the vehicle drove past. All four soldiers were injured, though two managed to fire on the suspect as he fled and left a trail of blood. The other two soldiers were trapped in the burning Humvee as ammunition it was carrying began to explode. Both were badly injured, and one later died.
Hours later, someone dropped a grenade from an overpass apparently trying to hit a moving Humvee. No one was injured. Also that night, a Humvee driven by three military police officers hit a trip wire, triggering an explosion. There were no injuries.
On Monday, one American soldier was killed and another was wounded when their convoy was ambushed in northern Iraq.
Also Monday, one U.S. soldier died and three were wounded when their vehicle hit a land mine or a piece of unexploded ordnance in Baghdad.
On Sunday, a U.S. soldier was killed and another injured when a munitions dump they were guarding exploded in southern Iraq. The blast was not thought to be a result of hostile action, Central Command said.
A U.S. soldier died Tuesday and two were injured in a road collision near the town of Tallil. Also Tuesday, a soldier drowned in an aqueduct in northern Iraq.
In yet another incident, five children swimming in a Baghdad canal were injured Tuesday when a grenade — apparently thrown at American soldiers — flew past them and into the canal, according to a witness. Two of the children were badly injured.