The mortar attack was just one of many attacks and assassinations that have taken place across Iraq in the last 24 hours.

In Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, a policeman was killed overnight in the third assassination by fighters in the troubled city in the last three days, police said.

In Tikrit, a tribal chief, Hazim Daraa, was gunned down by assailants, police said.

North of Tikrit, a member of the Iraqi National Guard was killed and two more were wounded when their patrol vehicle hit a roadside bomb, a national guard official said.

In the southern city of Nasiriya, the bullet-riddled body of a
policeman was fished out of the Euphrates river after he went missing three days ago, a local police officer said.

US soldier killed

Earlier a roadside bomb killed a US soldier and wounded two others in Baghdad, the military said.

The attack occurred at around 8am (0500 GMT) on Thursday in a western district of the Iraqi capital.

A roadside bomb killed one US
soldier in Baghdad on Thursday

Another person was killed, this one a suspected fighter, when a roadside bomb he was presumably planting detonated prematurely northeast of Baghdad, the US military said.

The failed attack - aimed at a 1st Infantry Division patrol - took place south of Baquba, 57km northeast of Baghdad. No other details were provided.

More than 1030 US troops have been killed in action since the beginning of the war, and nearly 10,000 have been wounded, the majority of them seriously.

Policeman killed

In other incidents, a police station in Mamun district, west of Baghdad, was hit by a projectile on Thursday, an Iraqi police official said.

One policeman was killed and two others were injured, he said.

Earlier in the morning two missiles slammed into two houses west of Baghdad, killing two civilians and injuring two others, police Lieutenant Ahmad Ismail said. The attack, which rocked al-Amil district at 7am (0400 GMT), heavily damaged the buildings.

As attacks continued throughout the war-torn country, the military said US forces detained 43 people in a series of raids south of Baghdad. The arrests, the latest in a months-long operation that has seen the detention of some 600 Iraqis, include:

  • Twenty-one suspected fighters, rounded up in the town of Yusufiya, 40km southwest of Baghdad.
  • Thirteen people in the town of Haswa, and
  • Nine people in Mahmudiya, detained after US raids.

In the past five months, since marines took over from Polish troops in the northern Babil province that reaches south from Baghdad, more than 850 people have been detained, the statement said. Of those, nearly 600 remain in prison.

Limited return

In other developments, dozens of people gathered outside Falluja on Thursday eager to return to their homes and nervous about what they would find in the ghost town of rubble after six weeks of fighting between the US military and fighters.

A small number of Fallujans have
been permitted to return home

About 100 people, some of them women, queued up at an Iraqi National Guard checkpoint east of Falluja waiting to receive passes to enter the city, which has become the symbol of resistance to the US presence in Iraq.

An estimated 2000 people were expected to be the first ones to make their trip home after most residents fled the town of 300,000 at the start of the US attack on the anti-US stronghold last month.

The flow of residents, who stayed with relatives, squatted in schools and shivered in camps during the devastation of the last two months, marks an effort by the Iraqi government to restore normality in the troubled Anbar province.

Help promised

"Returning to where we were before the war will take years, being in a position to start again some activity in the city will take months" 

Lt-Col Leonard DeFrancisci,
US military's civil-affairs officer

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Wednesday that three of the city's water purification plants had been destroyed and the fourth badly damaged.

The Iraqi government announced on Monday that returning families would receive immediate assistance of 150,000 dinars ($100) and be eligible for compensation of up to $10,000 for property damage.

Officers warned it would take a long time to restore basic services.

"Returning to where we were before the war will take years, being in a position to start again some activity in the city will take months," civil-affairs officer Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard
DeFrancisci said, referring to the US attacks in Falluja both in November and last April.