The two soldiers were killed in the town of Tal Afar, west of Mosul when resistance fighters fired rocket-propelled grenades and used small arms in the ambush, a US military spokesman in Baghdad said.

 

Another soldier was wounded, but there were no reports of casualties among the fighters.

 

The soldiers were from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.

 

Another attack targeted a US military convoy in Tarmiya district, about 15 kilometres north of Baghdad.

 

Eyewitnesses said they saw three US military vehicles burning, but they could not know whether there were any casualties.

 

US forces closed the area and prevented journalists from taking pictures.

 

They stormed into nearby houses to search for the assailants.

 

The occupation forces in Iraq have been a target for attacks on almost a daily basis since President Saddam Hussein was ousted in April.

 

The latest two deaths brought the number of troops killed by resistance attacks to 37 since 1 May. 

 

In all, 151 American soldiers have been killed since the war began on 20 March, more than the 147 killed in the 1991 Gulf War.

 

US officials have blamed followers of the ousted president for the attacks.

 

UN vehicle attacked

A United Nations vehicle also came under attack on Sunday when it was hit by gunfire and crashed into a bus south of Baghdad.

 

The driver, an Iraqi, was killed and a foreign UN staffer injured in the incident, said Ahmed Fawzi, spokesman for the UN special representative in Iraq. 

 

Fawzi said a car being used by the international organisation for migration (IOM) was hit by several bullets near the town of Hilla.

 

Forming proxy forces

Such attacks have compelled US military commanders to set forth plans in the country to train and arm Iraqis to conduct military missions alongside US and British forces.

 

Army General John Abizaid said it would take “years” to form a new Iraqi army and that “in the interim, we need civil defence forces that can operate with coalition forces, and eventually alone”.

 

His comments were published in The Washington Post on Sunday.

 

“The Iraqis want to be in the fight. We intend to get them in the fight,” Abizaid said in his first interview since taking over as head of the US Central Command.

 

The plan calls for forming 10 battalions of 350 Iraqis each. Each battalion would be trained by a US division or regiment and operate alongside it, a senior Centcom official told the Post.

 

Protests in Najaf

Meanwhile, anger at US-led forces continued on Sunday as about 1,000 demonstrators rallied in the holy city of Najaf in support of a Shia cleric opposed to the occupation.

 

The protest came after US troops besieged cleric Mortada Sadr’s home on Saturday, a day after he lambasted occupation forces during Friday prayers.

 

“No, no to America! No, no to the arrogant!” chanted the protesters as they beat their chests and carried pictures of Sadr’s father, who was assassinated by agents of Saddam Hussein in 1999.