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Chilcote: Four soldiers wounded in apparent ambush

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CNN's Ryan Chilcote: Mahmudiya "was obviously the scene of some heavy fighting."

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MAHMUDIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- A grenade attack Sunday in a town south of Baghdad wounded four U.S. soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division, several senior officers told CNN.

CNN correspondent Ryan Chilcote, who is embedded with the 101st Airborne, described the incident to anchor Anderson Cooper.

CHILCOTE: Four American soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were wounded in combat Sunday night, in an apparent ambush on them as they were in the town Mahmudiya.

The soldiers were clearing several buildings, one of them a police station. [It was] part of a larger operation in southern Baghdad and south of the city to clear all buildings that are associated with [deposed Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein's regime. They're going into the buildings to look for Iraqi fighters and also to look for weapons, of which they're finding a lot of them.

I went through Mahmudiya about five days ago with a convoy from the 101st Airborne, the first convoy to enter into Baghdad from the 101st. [Mahmudiya is] just about 10 miles [16 kilometers] south of the [capital], just off the main artery that goes into southern Baghdad, Highway 8. It was a very eerie feeling. It was the only place along the entire road where people that had lined the streets to watch the troops pass through were not cheering for them, were not applauding them as they went through.

And in the middle of the town, it's not a very big town, were three T-72 Soviet-made tanks that had belonged to the Iraqis, that were destroyed. They were right in the middle of a residential district, and some of the buildings adjacent to those tanks had also been destroyed. It was obviously the scene of some heavy fighting.

It is still a place where soldiers, when they pass through, are very apprehensive. A soldier was telling me [that] every time he goes through Mahmudiya, he takes his weapon off of safety so he's ready for any eventuality.

COOPER: Ryan, any sense of the condition of the four who you say were injured in that town?

CHILCOTE: No word yet. I do know that they were Medevaced almost immediately. A friend of mine was in that area. He saw the Medevac helicopter and two ambulances on the scene. There is an American base nearby, and we do know that they were evacuated from the area very quickly. But no word yet as to exactly how serious their wounds are.

COOPER: Ryan, how much of the operations that the 101st are doing right now would be described as peacekeeping; how much of them are still offensive military operations or searching out pockets of resistance?

CHILCOTE: I would say it's about 80-20. Eighty percent would be searching out at this point. They still have a checklist. They have to go through all of these establishments that they think might in some way or another be related to Saddam Hussein's regime. So they're going to go through all of the government buildings and all of the residences of the senior Baath Party officials.

They have to go through all those buildings and are going to go through all the schools. You ask, why schools? Well, schools have been used throughout this conflict by the Iraqis as places to stash their weapons. So they have to go through hundreds of buildings. And that takes a lot of time, and then they're going to enter into a peacekeeping role.

For example, there is no electricity in southern Baghdad right now. One of the things that the 101st is working on is getting the power plant running. To get the power plant running, the head of the power plant has said, you have to provide my plant with security. Because the looters will kill my employees when they come, if my employees come back to work, to come to steal things.

As they attempt to establish order and bring a little bit of normalcy back into life in southern Baghdad, they're finding themselves in more and more of a peacekeeping role. But still it's a matter of resources, and they have to transition from going through all of the buildings, all of the regions in southern Baghdad, to the peacekeeping operation.

COOPER: Is there looting going on in Mahmudiya?

CHILCOTE: There's looting going on throughout southern Baghdad and south of the city. It's pretty amazing, people grabbing pretty much anything they can. The 101st has been in southern Baghdad now for five days, and I've had a chance to watch some of the looting. And really there's not a whole lot more to loot at this point.

What we're seeing a lot of is looting of gasoline. That's one of the few things that people are still finding. They're stealing gasoline for their cars, but they've basically stripped most of the places where the looting is going on clean. There's not a whole lot more to take.


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