Two soldiers from the US 82nd Airborne Division were killed and one was wounded on Saturday when a roadside bomb was detonated next to their convoy in the volatile town of Falluja, the US army said.

The attack raised to at least 149 the number of US soldiers killed in action in Iraq since President George Bush declared major combat over on 1 May.

Meanwhile, US warplanes launched an air strike on areas surrounding the Iraqi city of Tikrit, signalling a possible change in tactics by occupation forces.

“This time, US warplanes, rather than helicopters, have launched the strike, making it different from other US military operations in Iraq”, Aljazeera correspondent Aktham Sulaiman reported.

Two 500-pound bombs were dropped and artillery shells fired to flatten three of four abandoned farm houses near where a Black Hawk helicopter was downed on Friday.

The latest attack brings to 149 the number of US soldiers killed since major combat was declared over on 1 May

“We ended up destroying three of four abandoned farm houses that could be used for ambushes”, Major Gordan Cate, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division told AFP.

Cate said the bombardment began after sunset on Friday and lasted early into Saturday morning.

Black Hawk 'shot down'

Six US soldiers were killed when the Black Hawk crashed on Friday. The US military has now confirmed that the helicopter was brought down by resistance guerrillas.

"We do believe it was brought down by ground fire," said Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Russell told Reuters on Saturday, speculating it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). It was the third US helicopter to be shot down in Iraq in the past two weeks.

Last Sunday, guerrillas shot down a US Chinook west of Baghdad as it carried troops on a rest and recreation break, killing 16 American soldiers in the deadliest single strike on US-led forces since the invasion.
 
On 25 October, guerrillas brought down a Black Hawk in Tikrit, hitting one of its engines with an RPG. The helicopter made an emergency landing and all five crew members escaped before it was engulfed in flames.
 
Iraqi civilian casualties now stand at 9,657, according to figures compiled by an independent website run by academics and peace activists, www.iraqbodycount.net