U.S. soldiers on patrol about 25 miles west of Kirkuk were ambushed late Sunday night and found themselves in a fierce battle that left at least 16 enemy dead and one American soldier wounded.
"That's the worst fight anyone's been in in Kirkuk," said the patrol commander, Capt. Mario Soto, 26, of Atlanta.
"When there's a 30- to 40-minute fight with A-10s, Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicle support, the war is not over."
The action took place under a three-quarter moon on the outskirts of a small village.
A scout patrol of seven Humvees from the 1st Battalion, 63rd Armored Regiment, had pulled to either side of the road, doused its lights and was waiting to see if there was any activity in the area.
Townspeople had complained that loyalists of Saddam Hussein had been threatening them with weapons and stealing cars.
As the patrol waited silently, a Chevrolet Impala approached from the rear.
Soldiers stopped it and found men with loaded AK-47 rifles.
As they were questioning the men, three Toyota pickups approached one after the other from the front. The American patrol was bathed in light from headlights, front and rear.
Suddenly, heavy firing erupted from a complex of buildings about 350 yards away. As he returned fire with a machine gun mounted on a Humvee, one soldier was hit with a bullet in the abdomen.
He was carried behind a vehicle, where a companion held his hand and gave him encouragement while bullets kicked up dust all around them and zinged over their heads. He was later evacuated to an Army surgical center, where his condition was reported as good.
The battalion commander, Lt. Col. Ken Riddle, 41, of Leesburg, Fla., said four ethnic groups are vying for control of the region around Kirkuk in northern Iraq. "As these groups start to reorganize, I think it becomes more dangerous," he said.
Meanwhile, former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, who gained wide respect for his response to the 2001 World Trade Center attack, will lead a team of policing experts in an attack on rampant street crime in Iraq's capital.
Kerik has been appointed senior adviser to Iraq's Ministry of Interior, whose duties include law enforcement, said U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Dave Andersen, a spokesman for the U.S.-led Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
Kerik "was just a no-nonsense, get-it-done person who was looked up to" after 9/1 1, Andersen said. He will lead at least 40 people with experience in crime and justice matters, many of whom have arrived in Baghdad in the past few days, Andersen said.
In other developments:
About 10,000 Shiite Muslims marched peacefully through Baghdad today to protest the American occupation of Iraq and reject what they feared would be a U.S.-installed puppet government. U.S. infantrymen watched the rally but did not intervene.
It appeared to be the largest protest against the U.S. occupation since the war ended.
"What we are calling for is an interim government that represents all segments of Iraqi society," said Ali Salman, an activist.
Some carried portraits of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, senior Iraqi Shiite clerics and of Imam Hussein, one of the most revered Shiite saints.
America's top administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, went north, meeting with a U.S.-installed city council in turbulent Mosul and appraising the challenges of restoring order.
The Iraqi agency responsible for paying pensioners handed out emergency cash for the first time, triggering hours of chaos as retirees and their families struggled to force their way into the Baghdad office building while U.S. troops tried to maintain order.
The United Nations Children's Fund warned Iraq could slip into a "major crisis" without quick action to meet its urgent humanitarian needs, including getting children back to school and removing potentially lethal ordnance left over from the war.