On 1 May Bush announced an end to major combat operations and despite almost daily anti-occupation attacks, US chief military lieutenants gave an upbeat assessment of what they said was progress in establishing security.

But ordinary Iraqis are critical about the snail’s pace of reconstruction and the precarious security situation.

“Now it’s just a habit for a thief to aim a gun in a man’s face,” said Hasham Abd Moshi, 52, who had his taxi stolen at gunpoint two weeks ago.

“They don’t think twice about killing him for his car,” he said.

Occupation troops said they arrested 18 Iraqis overnight in and around Tikrit, ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s hometown, during raids in an effort to capture the toppled leader.

Uneasiness

More than 50 US soldiers have been
killed since an "end to hostilities"

Meanwhile, occupation troops were again targeted by Iraqis who want an end to the occupation.

In the northeast city of Ba’aquba, about 50 km from the capital, US patrols came under rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attacks, damaging two military vehicles, eyewitnesses told our correspondent.

There were no casualties reported. 

In the southern city of Basra, four Iraqis were wounded in an attack targeting British occupation forces, according to witnesses.

A bomb exploded next to a petrol station just seconds after three British trucks passed, wounding four Iraqis and damaging a mini-bus. 

Locals said residents suspected two veiled women, who were sitting at the site for 30 minutes some three hours before the blast. British military authorities said they were investigating the incident.

Overnight US troops shot dead “one armed hostile Iraqi” in the town of Samarra, 120 km north of Baghdad.

A US soldier was also killed when he fell off a roof in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, said military officials.

At least 57 American troops have now died in non-combat incidents since Bush declared an end to hostilities, while 53 US soldiers have been killed in anti-occupation attacks.

In other news, an Iraqi civilian was killed when a man lit up a cigarette around lethal chemical supplies inside a Baghdad store, causing an explosion. Three other people were wounded, according to local firemen.