An unnamed military spokesman on Monday did not specify if those killed were resistance fighters or civilians.

Earlier, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bill MacDonald claimed  that 46 people had been killed when troops fought off multiple attacks on military convoys on Sunday.

But local residents said US troops killed innocent bystanders when they opened fire on anything that moved around midday.

A hospital in the town said it received the bodies of eight civilians, including a woman and a child. Also, more than 60 people wounded by gunfire and shrapnel from US rounds are being treated at the hospital.

Workers at a nearby pharmaceutical plant said at least two colleagues were killed and many wounded as they walked out of the factory gates at the end of their shift. A US tank was shooting randomly in all directions, they said.

At 13:45 (10:45 GMT), just as staff at the State Enterprise for the Manufacture of Drugs and Medical Equipment finished their shift, a second tank arrived and opened up with machine guns, employees said.

Laying the blame

US-led occupation forces and residents alike spoke of multiple attacks in the central Iraqi city that was once home to Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, Saddam Hussein's deputy and the alleged paymaster of many attacks against occupation forces.

MacDonald said US troops also destroyed three buildings used in the attacks and notably fired tank shells against the attackers, who were allegedly wearing the black uniforms of Saddam's Fidayin fighters.

Iraqi Hamed Mahjub wounded in 
US attack is still unconscious

Five US troops and a civilian in their convoy were also wounded, two of them lightly, according to the spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division which patrols the town regularly.

 

MacDonald said two convoys were driving into Samarra when they were attacked.

"The attackers fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at the convoy from rooftops of buildings and from the alleyways," said MacDonald, adding that mortars and improvised bombs also were used against the US soldiers.

More wounded

"At each location, soldiers from the 1st Battalion 66th Armour and military police returned fire with small arms, 120mm tank rounds and 25mm cannon fired from Bradley vehicles," the spokesman said.

In a third attack, another US military convoy came under small arms fire attack from four men travelling in a car.

The soldiers returned fire wounding all four and capturing them, said MacDonald, speaking to journalists at the division's headquarters in Tikrit.

The US military is using considerably more violent tactics against the resistance in the past couple of weeks, launching massive operations both in and around Baghdad and in the 4th Infantry Division’s operational area in north-central Iraq.
  
The top US commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, had boasted on Saturday of a "significant" fall-off in attacks in the region around Tikrit and Samarra following the launching of Operation Ivy Cyclone II.

But the end of the Eid al-Fitr holiday has seen an explosion of violence against the US military and its allies.

Seven Spanish agents, two Japanese diplomats, one Colombian and two Korean contractors as well as two US soldiers were killed on Saturday and Sunday.