Baghdad, Iraq In the deadliest reported firefight since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, U.S. soldiers fought back coordinated attacks Sunday using tanks, cannons and small arms in running battles throughout the northern city of Samarra. The troops killed 46 Iraqi fighters, and five Americans were wounded.
Minutes later, two South Korean contractors were killed nearby in a roadside ambush in what U.S. officials called a new campaign aimed at undermining international support for the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Attacks on Saturday killed seven Spaniards, two Japanese diplomats and a Colombian oil worker.
Lt. Col. William MacDonald of the 4th Infantry Division said attackers, many wearing uniforms of Saddam's Fedayeen militia, opened fire simultaneously on two U.S. supply convoys on opposite sides of Samarra.
After barricading a road, the attackers began firing from rooftops and alleyways with small arms, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, he said. U.S. troops responded with rifles, 120mm tank rounds and 25mm cannon fire from Bradley fighting vehicles.
U.S. fire destroyed three buildings the attackers were using, MacDonald said.
"It sounds like the attack had some coordination to it, but the soldiers responded, used their firepower, used tank and Bradley fire and other weapons available to them, to stop this attack and take the fight to the enemy," he said.
When the smoke cleared, 46 Iraqis were dead, 18 were wounded and eight were captured, MacDonald said. Five American soldiers and a civilian were wounded, he said, adding that none of the injuries was life-threatening.
"We have been very aggressive in our convoy operations to ensure the maximum force protection is with each convoy," MacDonald said. "But it does send a clear message that if you attempt to attack one of our convoys, we're going to use our firepower to stop that attack."
Shortly after the firefight, four men in a BMW attacked another U.S. convoy in Samarra with automatic rifles, MacDonald said. The soldiers wounded all four men and found Kalashnikov rifles and grenade launchers in their car.
Deadliest on record
MacDonald said the attack was the largest faced by his Task Force Ironhorse -- whose mission includes the hunt for Saddam. Military officials in Baghdad said they haven't reported a deadlier attack since May 1, when President Bush declared major combat over.
U.S. officials have only sporadically released figures on Iraqi casualties, and wouldn't say whether there has been a deadlier firefight that went unreported.
Samarra is 60 miles north of Baghdad in the so-called Sunni Triangle, where opposition to the U.S. occupation of Iraq has been fiercest.
The fighting came as the U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council said Sunday it was rethinking an agreement with Americans for a power handover by July, with officials saying the council has set up a committee to assess the best way to choose a provisional legislature. A delay or unraveling of the agreement would be a major setback for Iraq's U.S.-led administration.
Also Sunday, U.S. forces reported an attack the previous day near the Syrian border in Husaybah, 200 miles northwest of Baghdad, in which two U.S. soldiers were killed and a third was wounded.
Their deaths brought to 104 the number of coalition troops who have died in Iraq in November, including 79 American troops. In terms of coalition losses, it has been the bloodiest month of the war that began March 20.
U.S. allies targeted
MacDonald said the attack on the South Koreans -- on the highway between Samarra and Tikrit -- had no apparent link to the attacks on the U.S. convoys.
In Seoul, President Roh Moo-hyun on Monday condemned the attack as "intolerable" terror, and his government said the attack would not affect plans to send troops to Iraq.
The South Koreans were electricians who were building power lines for the Seoul-based Omu Electric Co., said Lee Kwang-jae, director general of South Korea's Foreign Ministry. Two were killed and two were injured in the attack.
U.S. officials said insurgents were targeting citizens of countries that support the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq in an effort to undermine support for the coalition. But U.S. and allied officials vowed that multinational forces would not be cowed in their mission to rebuild Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
"They clearly are targeting coalition members in an effort to intimidate all allies in Iraq and discourage their participation in the reconstruction of Iraq," said coalition spokesman Dan Senor. "The enemies of freedom ... are trying to break the coalition's will."
Spanish and Japanese officials said the deaths wouldn't change their commitments to Iraq, and Senor said the alliance wouldn't be weakened.
On Saturday, gunmen in a car -- apparently in coordination with others waiting by the side of the highway -- ambushed a convoy of Spanish military intelligence agents, killing seven. One Spaniard escaped from the attack as young men kicked the bodies and chanted pro-Saddam slogans.
Two Japanese diplomats also were killed Saturday north of Baghdad when they stopped to buy food and drinks at a roadside stand, MacDonald said. The diplomats, on their way to attend a reconstruction conference, were not traveling with a military escort. Their Iraqi driver was also reported killed.