US President George Bush said on Wednesday strikes against US troops would not lead Washington to "leave prematurely".

"There are some who feel like that, you know, the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is bring'em on!," he said. "We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation."

Since Bush declared major combat over in Iraq in May, resistance operations in that country have left at least 22 US soldiers and six British troops killed.

Earlier on Wednesday, US forces declared another soldier dead in action "from his wounds from an attack by an impoverished explosive device that happened on 1 July".

Straw visit

Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that those who carry out attacks against US and British troops would be "dealt with".

Straw made that pledge while on a surprise visit to Iraq during which he met the US overseer Paul Bremer in Baghdad.

Straw makes a surprise
visit to Iraq

Straw had earlier said "the terrorists, the remnants of the Baathists in Fallujah (west of Baghdad), on the ground, are making a terrible mistake if they think that we're going to run away from this".

The British official also told a news conference that the US-led administration in Baghdad was working toward giving the Iraqi people the responsibility for ruling their own country.

Fallujah mosque blast

American soldiers took to the streets of Fallujah on Wednesday to convince residents they were not behind Monday night's mosque blast.

The soldiers in Fallujah were met by vows to drive them out of town.

"We will fight a holy war until the last drop of blood. Even boys who are 10 years old will fight until their last drop of blood," said a man standing at the damaged al-Hassan mosque.

Residents said the blast killed nine people, including the mosque's imam. They blamed it on a US air strike, a charge which the occupation forces have denied.

 

"An investigation conducted by coalition forces and Fallujah police into the explosion at the Al-Hassan mosque... (showed) the explosion was apparently related to a bomb-manufacturing class that was being taught inside the mosque," the US military said.

 

The mosque blast has exacerbated the already bitter feelings felt by locals in Fallujah towards the occupation soldiers who have been criticised for their heavy-handed tactics.

 

In other areas of Iraq, US occupation troops pursued Operation Desert Sidewinder, with the aim of wiping out Fedayeen fighters and other supporters of the ousted Ba'ath government.

 

Central Command said on Wednesday five raids were carried out resulting in three detained individuals.

   

In other developments:

  • A US Marine was killed and three injured in an explosion as they were clearing a minefield near Karbala, Iraq, US Central Command said on Wednesday. An Iraqi technician was also injured.
  • Russian deputy chief of staff General Yury Baluyevsky warned on Wednesday the US is in danger of getting bogged down in another Vietnam in Iraq. "The resistance in Iraq is not terrorism,"  Baluyevsky said. He also expressed doubts there were any members of Al-Qaida  in Iraq and whether the attacks were being carried out by diehards from the ousted Ba'ath government.
  • A unit of 250 Polish soldiers departed for Iraq on Wednesday. They will be part of a Polish-led multinational force due to take over security in part of Iraq. The stabilisation force will be responsibile for security in the south central section between Baghdad and Basra, according to Polish officials.