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3 U.S. soldiers killed in ambush near Tikrit

Five U.S. soldiers wounded in two separate attacks

A U.S. convoy came under attack Thursday west of Baghdad.
A U.S. convoy came under attack Thursday west of Baghdad.

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TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- Three U.S. soldiers investigating a suspected launch site for rocket-propelled grenades were killed in an ambush near Tikrit Thursday night, U.S. military officials said. Two other soldiers were wounded by the small-arms fire, military officials said.

The soldiers were with the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division. The soldiers were attacked at about 10:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. ET) while on the east side of the Tigris River, near one of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's former palaces. Tikrit was a stronghold of the Baath party when it ruled Iraq before the U.S. invasion.

West of Baghdad at least two more U.S. soldiers were wounded Thursday in what may have been a single attack, military officials said.

The soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded when they came under small-arms fire and their Humvee drove over an improvised explosive device, said a coalition spokeswoman. She said more than one vehicle was involved.

In Khaldiya, east of Ramadi, townspeople who may have been describing the same attack said a convoy of vehicles was ambushed and a number of soldiers wounded in a gunbattle that lasted for hours.

A celebration greeted word of the attack, with hundreds of Iraqis -- many carrying pictures of ousted leader Saddam Hussein -- firing weapons into the air, CNN correspondent Nic Robertson reported.

Pipeline fire reduces oil flow

An oil fire Thursday along the Iraqi-Turk pipeline in north-central Iraq is believed to be sabotage, an Iraqi official said.

Nadhim Thanon, Iraq's chief engineer of the pipeline, said an explosion caused the fire north of Baiji, near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.

Coalition officials said they were uncertain of the explosion's cause. Officials have blamed two pipeline fires since mid-August on sabotage.

Iraqi officials, along with coalition forces from the U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit, are investigating and working to control the fire.

The explosion reduced the flow of oil from Iraq to Turkey.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, said the coalition is examining how to improve security around oil pipelines.

"We lose ... up to about $7 million a day when we cannot export that oil," Sanchez said, noting the money is for Iraqis.

Thanon said he expected to have the fire under control later Thursday and then would be able to determine the amount of damage. He said his crews are overworked and hindered by a lack of parts.

New tape tells U.S. to leave

The oil fires came a day after the latest purported audiotape from Saddam, which an Arabic TV news network broadcast.

The audiotape statement called on U.S. troops to leave Iraq or face continuing attacks.

Firefighters battle an oil pipeline fire along the main line from Iraq to Turkey.
Firefighters battle an oil pipeline fire along the main line from Iraq to Turkey.

The statement, which aired Wednesday on Al-Arabiya, accused President Bush of lying about the reasons for the U.S.-led invasion that deposed Saddam in April. The statement also said an American withdrawal is "inevitable -- if not today, [then] tomorrow."

"We call on you to withdraw your troops as quickly as possible and without any conditions because there is no reason for more losses that will be catastrophic for America if American officials, primarily you, persisted in the continuation of their aggression and aggressiveness," the speaker said.

The CIA is analyzing the audiotape, an official said. The agency expects to determine within a day or two whether the voice on the tape appears to be Saddam's, the official added.

More American troops injured

At least four U.S. soldiers were wounded in attacks Tuesday in Iraq, the Coalition Press Information Center said Wednesday.

Spc. William Moore of the 82nd Airborne Division pays respects during a memorial service this week for Sgt. Trevor Blumberg in Iraq.
Spc. William Moore of the 82nd Airborne Division pays respects during a memorial service this week for Sgt. Trevor Blumberg in Iraq.

One soldier was wounded Tuesday afternoon when a convoy of the 4th Infantry Division came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades near Balad, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Earlier Tuesday, three members of the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device on the outskirts of southern Baghdad.

U.S. forces launched another raid Wednesday near Tikrit, detaining three Iraqis, according to sources in the 4th Infantry Division.

The raid was based on information from an Iraqi civil defense soldier who said one of the men offered him money to detonate a bomb at the U.S. military base in Tikrit, sources said.

Military officials also reported Monday's death of a U.S. serviceman due to a "nonhostile" gunshot wound in north-central Iraq.

With the death, 295 U.S. troops have died since the Iraq war began in March, including 188 from hostile fire.

CNN correspondents Walter Rodgers and Nic Robertson and Jason Bellini contributed to the report.

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