KHAN DHARI, Iraq -- Two separate blasts in central Iraq wounded three U.S. soldiers on Tuesday in an increasingly bloody guerrilla campaign against occupation forces in the Sunni Muslim heartland.
In the first incident two U.S. soldiers were slightly wounded when an explosion damaged their Humvee vehicle on the outskirts of Baghdad, a U.S. military officer said.
The second blast in Khan Dhari, some 30 km (20 miles) west of Baghdad, was set off by an anti-tank mine, a rare tactic in a land where the rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) is the weapon of choice, soldiers said at the scene.
U.S. forces were distributing water and propane gas in Khan Dhari when the anti-tank mine exploded under a Bradley fighting vehicle in an open field near the propane station. The ruined Bradley was left in a ditch, motor oil spewn about.
The blast whipped up a dust cloud and rained mud on the convoy for several seconds. Panicked residents fled the scene with their just filled propane tanks. Soldiers barked out orders to clear the area, pointing their M-16s when English failed to make the point.
The Bradley's driver, Specialist Justin Howard of Georgia, sustained back injuries and was taken away on a stretcher.
"I feel very lucky. Scared, too," he said.
A purported audio tape from ousted President Saddam Hussein broadcast on Tuesday told Iraqis covert guerrilla attacks were the best way to end the U.S. occupation.
"Returning to covert attacks is the appropriate means for resistance," said the voice, which sounded like Saddam, although there was no immediate independent confirmation of the speaker's identity.
Two vehicles drove over the mine first without triggering it, one a Humvee carrying a Reuters reporter embedded with the artillery battalion and the other a truck that had just distributed 3,000 gallons (11,400 litres) of drinking water.
"It split the hull of the Bradley. Imagine what it would have done to us. There would be no more Humvee," said Specialist Leo May, the vehicle's driver.
"They know we come here every day to try to do good things for the people. They say patterns make you vulnerable but we can't move the propane station every day," battery commander Captain Matthew Payne told Reuters at the scene.
HIGHWAY BOMBS REVISITED
Twenty-nine U.S. soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since President George W. Bush declared major combat over in Iraq on May 1. In the last week, guerrillas have resorted to heavier weapons such as mortars.
In the earlier blast, two soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division suffered minor wounds when an explosive device blew up as the Humvee drove on Highway Eight between Baghdad and the international airport.
The Humvee had its trunk blackened and blown off.
"We've actually found some (explosive devices) in the past couple of days and caught them before they blew up," Major Ed Bohnemann told Reuters on the scene.
In a separate incident, a U.S. military base near the town of Balad, 90 km (60 miles) north of the capital, came under mortar attack shortly before midnight on Monday for the second time in less than a week, a U.S. spokeswoman said.
There were no American casualties, she said, adding that 12 suspects had been arrested over the attack. A similar attack last week wounded 16 soldiers.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Gray)