Baquba, Iraq An unknown assailant hurled a grenade from the upper floor of a children's hospital here Saturday, killing three U.S. soldiers and severing the leg of a fourth soldier who had been passing the time playing cards as they guarded the building, hospital workers and visitors said.
Another U.S. soldier was killed Saturday and two more wounded when their convoy was attacked with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades near Abu Ghuraib, U.S. officials said.
The bloody attacks, coming just days after U.S. troops killed Saddam Hussein's sons, Odai and Qusai, in a raid in the northern city of Mosul, raised to 48 the number of U.S. troops slain by hostile fire since President Bush declared the major combat phase of the Iraq war over on May 1.
The Baquba attack marked only the second occasion since Bush's speech in which three U.S. soldiers were killed in a single attack. The other deadly day was Thursday, when three 101st Airborne Division soldiers died from by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades while on patrol in northern Iraq. In June, British forces lost six military police in a single firefight near Amarah, about four hours southeast of Baghdad, the capital.
"A lot of people have the sentiment that the war is over -- it's not over," said Pfc. Adam Gable, of the 4th Infantry Division as he peered across concertina wire toward a swelling crowd of Iraqis checking on relatives who had been in the Baquba hospital at the time of the attack.
"When people die is the only time when the American media and the public pays attention," he said, adding wistfully, "I could be planning my wedding now. A lot of the young Iraqi women, they remind me of my fiancee."
Baquba, a city an hour northeast of Baghdad, has been the site of several previous attacks on U.S. soldiers. Two weeks ago, assailants burned a Humvee outside the hospital, and last week they lobbed a grenade at soldiers there, but no one was hurt.
Shift in orders
The assault Saturday, in which three other 4th Infantry Division soldiers were wounded, struck an especially bitter chord for soldiers because the U.S. military, after being criticized for failing to prevent the looting of hospitals, electrical substations and other civilian institutions in the days after Saddam's regime was toppled, has shifted its focus and ordered troops to provide protection.
Now, with the continuing drumbeat of attacks, it appeared that soldiers sitting guard might be especially vulnerable targets.
The attack also served as a bloody reminder that while some Iraqis are pleased by the American presence, it only takes a few who despise the Westerners on their land to create a lethal environment.
"They call us Ali Babas, thieves; we're not thieves, we're here to protect them and make sure everything goes right," said Higinio Nunez, a soldier from Fresno, Calif., with the 4th Infantry Division, who was guarding the hospital's entrance.
Go home, Iraqis say
Several men in the neighborhood condemned the American presence. "Of course it is a revenge killing," said Amer Ahmed Adai, who lives near the hospital and had come out in the early evening wearing a traditional long white robe.
"Now that Saddam Hussein is gone, they have brought freedom to Iraq; that is the operation they came to do; why are they staying now? This is the third month we are an occupied country."
But several Iraqi women defended the American presence. "In my opinion these people are providing security for us," said Oma Mohammed, 32, who works as a clerk in the hospital and was present when the attack occurred. "They are here to serve us; they are providing security for the hospital, we shouldn't treat them like this."
Several employees ran outside to bring the injured into the hospital where they were treated by Iraqi doctors until U.S. military ambulances arrived.
Each person inside was searched, questioned and fingerprinted. Americans got high marks for their treatment from many of the Iraqis there -- a notable event as there have been frequent complaints elsewhere that U.S. soldiers have treated Iraqis offensively during searches.
"They put the women in one room and the men in another and they are checking the whole body, but nobody is humiliating us," said Mundar Jaffa, 22, an assistant pharmacist.
The names of the slain soldiers in both attacks were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
In the Abu Ghuraib attack, U.S. military officials said members of the 3rd Infantry Division were fired upon about 1 p.m. and that assailants also might have used an improvised explosive device on the highway. Three Iraqis were also wounded in the attack, U.S. officials said.