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Ambushers killed in battles with U.S. forces

Clashes end deadliest month for coalition since war began

U.S. troops take positions after a roadside explosion near Samarra on Sunday.
U.S. troops take positions after a roadside explosion near Samarra on Sunday.

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TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. troops fought off two simultaneous attacks on military convoys Sunday in northern Iraq, killing 54 attackers, wounding 18 and capturing eight others, military officials said.

During the gunfights, U.S. tanks crushed makeshift barricades set up by the guerrillas and destroyed three buildings from which the Iraqi fighters were launching attacks.

Some of the attackers appeared to be wearing the black uniforms of the Fedayeen Saddam, a militia loyal to ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, said Master Sgt. Robert Cargie, a spokesman for the Army's 4th Infantry Division.

The convoys carrying military supplies and Iraqi dinars came under attack in Samarra, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Baghdad, the Army's 4th Infantry Division said.

"This was a coordinated, simultaneous attack," Cargie said, with one convoy being attacked on the east side of the city and the other coming under fire while in the west side of Samarra.

Guerrillas set off improvised explosive devices as the convoys approached, then opened fire from nearby rooftops and alleyways with rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, Cargie said.

Troops from the 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment and U.S. military police responded with a barrage of cannon fire from tanks and armored personnel carriers, Cargie said.

When the attackers put up a makeshift barricade in an attempt to block one convoy, U.S. armor steamrolled over it, he said.

Five U.S. soldiers were wounded in the simultaneous ambushes, which took place about 1:30 p.m. Sunday (5:30 a.m. EST). Three were hospitalized, but none suffered life-threatening wounds.

Less than an hour later, in a third attack in Samarra, four men in a black BMW fired rifles at members of a U.S. combat engineering battalion. The soldiers returned fire, wounding and capturing the men, Cargie said.

He added that two rifles and two rocket-propelled grenade launchers were found in the car. No further details were available on that attack.

The battles come at the end of a month that has proved the deadliest for coalition forces since the war began, and at the end of a weekend in which 15 people have been killed in attacks on troops, diplomats, agents and contractors from countries participating in the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Despite the attacks on both military and civilian targets, U.S. and coalition officials reiterated their determination to stay in Iraq.

Series of weekend attacks

Two South Korean power company contractors were killed and two others wounded, one critically, in an attack in northern Iraq, South Korean officials said. (Full story)

On Saturday, Iraqi insurgents killed seven Spanish intelligence agents and wounded another as their convoy moved south from Baghdad. Spain's defense minister called the highway ambush an "assassination."

Two Japanese diplomats and their Iraqi driver were shot and killed near Tikrit.

And coalition officials say a Colombian civilian -- a senior security representative of a U.S. company providing contracted services in Iraq -- was shot and killed Saturday as he drove to a U.S. base north of Baghdad near Balad.

With the deaths of the two U.S. soldiers Saturday, the number of coalition troops killed in Iraq during November reached 100 -- more than in March or April, when the war was in full force. Eighty-eight of the soldiers died under hostile fire.

And the U.S. military said Sunday that the downing of two Black Hawk helicopters, which collided in midair over Mosul, was probably the result of a rocket-propelled grenade that hit one of the aircraft. (Full story)

Army officer Col. Joe Anderson said that while the investigation into the November 15 crash is not conclusive, "it appears that the collision was caused by one of them being hit by something from the ground, probably a rocket."

The deaths in November include 81 Americans, 17 Italians killed in the bombing of the Italian military headquarters in Nasiriya, a British soldier who died in a traffic accident and a Polish major killed when his convoy was shelled. (Deaths by month)

In Baghdad, Brigadier Gen. Mark Kimmitt said "the number of attacks on soft targets and civilians continues to rise ... we think this is a change on the part of the enemy."

He added that on Saturday, coalition forces had conducted 1,682 patrols, 25 raids and captured 72 anti-coalition suspects the previous day.

"Going against soft targets is probably an easier way to achieve what the enemy is trying to achieve. He's attempting to intimidate the people of Iraq, and he's attempting to try to break the will of the coalition," Kimmitt said. "He will be unsuccessful in both."

CNN producer Alphonso Van Marsh, senior international correspondent Walter Rodgers, CNN Seoul bureau chief Sohn Jie-Ae and CNN Madrid bureau chief Al Goodman contributed to this report.

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