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Troops battle resistance fighters west of Baghdad, one U

KHALDIYAH, Iraq — U.S. troops backed by attack aircraft, tanks and helicopters battled Iraqi resistance fighters Monday near this Sunni Muslim town west of Baghdad after a roadside bomb killed one soldier and wounded another, U.S. officials said.

The American military also announced the arrest of 92 people in a series of raids aimed at those responsible for attacks against Americans north of the capital. One of the raids included the largest joint operation between U.S. military police and about 200 American-trained Iraqi police.

Sporadic, heavy gunfire rattled farming communities north of Khaldiyah, where resistance to the American presence is strong. In Baghdad, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo said the fight started about 9:10 a.m. when a homemade bomb exploded along the road as a U.S. convoy passed, killing one soldier and wounding another.

Six soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded Sunday in nearby Fallujah in another roadside bombing, U.S. officials said.

In another incident, 4th Infantry Division troops late Sunday killed one Iraqi and captured three others in a shootout 9 miles south of Balad, U.S. officials said. In the car, troops found two M-16 rifles which belonged to two American soldiers who were abducted and killed in June, officials said.

By late afternoon, the fighting was still raging about 3 miles north of Khaldiyah. It appeared to be the biggest engagement in the area in months.

American M1A2 tanks fired 120-mm cannons as helicopters strafed farm houses with 50-mm machine gun fire. Two A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft bombed guerrilla positions while F-15 jets streaked across the sky.

At midafternoon, six U.S. armored personnel carriers — two of them ambulances — arrived as reinforcements. As the fight continued, eight Humvees carrying U.S. troops also could be seen heading toward the battle.

A U.S. armored personnel carrier left the area carrying six blindfolded Iraqi prisoners. In the distance, civilians, including women and children, could be seen fleeing on foot. An American recovery vehicle towed away two Humvees, one of which had a bullet hole in the windshield.

An Iraqi man, fleeing on foot with his wife, three other women, a nephew and five children, said at least 10 houses had been destroyed. He refused to give his name.

"Is this the freedom that we were promised?" he asked. "I had to get my family out. ... The helicopters were firing almost nonstop. My 7-year-old is too young to hate but how can he not hate them (the Americans) after this?"

Meanwhile, soldiers of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division launched two dozen raids in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and other areas of northern Iraq, arresting 92 people and seizing weapons and ammunition.

Lt. Col. David Poirier, who commands the 720th Military Police Battalion, based in Fort Hood, Texas, said the operations in Tikrit and other areas that ended Monday morning were designed to "break the back of the Fedayeen."

"The people we went after are the trigger-pullers attacking the coalition," Poirier said.

Of the 92 arrested, four were taken into custody in the joint U.S.-Iraqi raid. But the joint raid failed to locate any major suspects. Some of the Iraqi police vehicles switched on their headlights during the nighttime operation despite U.S. instructions to drive with them off.

Raids in the 4th Division sector have intensified after Iraqi resistance fighters shot and killed three Americans in an ambush two weeks ago just outside Tikrit. In a coordinated series of attacks and ambushes against U.S. forces last week, nine Iraqi fighters were also killed.

"We think all these people and weapons found in the past are linked," Poirier said. "We think they are linked to the organized attacks and are also responsible for the assassination attempts against the Iraqi police as well."

The ongoing violence has complicated efforts to rebuild this country following the collapse of Saddam's regime in April. Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1, more than 80 American soldiers have been killed by hostile fire. That has led to questions about the U.S.-led coalition's stewardship of this country since American and allied forces launched military operations March 20.

In Baghdad, suspected Saddam supporters Monday blew up early a video shop that sold videotapes depicting atrocities committed by the ousted regime. No one was injured in the pre-dawn blast, which also damaged four other shops on al-Rasheed street.

Shopkeeper Abbas Fadhil, 27, said he had received leaflets warning him to stop selling such tapes, "but I paid no attention to them."

On Sunday, the Polish military reported that one Iraqi was killed and a second was detained after a gunbattle with a Polish patrol near the city of Hilla. It was the first fatality suffered in a clash involving the Poles, who took over control of a sector in south-central Iraq on Sept. 3.

Poland commands some 9,500 peacekeepers from 21 nations and contributed about 2,400 of its own troops to the force.

Meanwhile, a 17-member, bipartisan Congressional delegation is visiting Iraq to get a firsthand look at conditions here as Congress considers President Bush's request for an additional $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan. The figure includes $20.3 billion to rebuild Iraq's government and economy after the war.

Democrats have criticized the $20.3 billion portion, noting it comes as the United States struggles with record federal deficits. The plan has been submitted as polls show a steady drop in Bush's popularity and in the public's confidence in his Iraq policies.

"I think most of the ones who were here will be supporting this legislation ... and I hope their voices will have a very big impact upon the Democrats in the House, as well as the Republicans," Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., told reporters Sunday in Mosul.

Lewis described the $20.3 billion as "only the beginning" of what will be required to repair the country's infrastructure.