Though there were no immediate reports of any casualties, US soldiers said the attack seemed to be aimed at Iraqis who are collaborating with occupation forces based in the village just outside the town of Tikrit.

"Its pretty unusual. Not in that its Iraqi on Iraqi. That’s not new, but the method is unusual," Colonel James Hickey, commander of the 1st Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division said.

The mortars fired towards Awja landed in fields between two US bases, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russel, leader of the 1st battalion, 22nd regiment said.

US soldiers reported over the radio they thought Iraqis were the targets because they said Saddam loyalists had drawn up a hitlist, that included some residents of the village.

"Either that or those guys are really bad shots," one soldier said.

Unrelenting attacks

The Awja-incident is only the latest in what has been a rising tide of attacks against US-led occupation forces and their allies in Iraq.

On a visit to Iraq, US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld claimed earlier this week that the security situation in the war-ravaged country has improved considerably.

But irrespective of the claim, Iraqi resistance fighters continue to mount surprise attacks on occupation forces and those suspected to be collaborating with them.