The soldiers were from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment.

TIKRIT, Iraq (AP) – A roadside bomb in Saddam Hussein’s hometown killed two American soldiers and wounded four Saturday, a day after the military said two other soldiers died in a similar explosion elsewhere in Iraq’s so-called Sunni Triangle.

The soldiers killed Saturday were patrolling in downtown Tikrit, north of Baghdad, around 5 a.m. in an armored Humvee when a roadside bomb exploded, said Capt. Tim Crowe of the U.S. Army.

The blast destroyed the vehicle. Crowe said small arms fire erupted in the same area shortly before the explosion, possibly to distract the soldiers.

The four wounded soldiers were evacuated to a military hospital north of Tikrit. It was not immediately clear how serious their injuries were.

After the attack, about 50 soldiers fanned out through the city searching for evidence and asking locals for information about the attack.

The soldiers were from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, which is taking over security in the Tikrit area on Saturday.

Roadside bombs have become the main threat to U.S. soldiers on patrol in the Sunni Triangle, a region has seen some of the fiercest guerrilla fighting.

On Friday, the military said two U.S. soldiers were killed and a third wounded when their Humvee struck a roadside bomb Thursday northeast of Habbiniyah. Another American soldier was killed and two others injured earlier Thursday by a homemade bomb in Baqouba.

On Friday, a top U.S. military official said four Iraqis suspected of killing a pair of American officials and their translator appear to be active police officers working with a Saddam Hussein loyalist, raising concerns that insurgents are infiltrating Iraqi security forces being trained by U.S. forces.

The four were caught along with a former officer from the Saddam-era police forces and a civilian after the slayings Tuesday of the two U.S.-led coalition staffers and an Iraqi woman south of Baghdad, Maj. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said.

U.S. troops have been setting up Iraqi police and other security forces, intending to gradually put them on the frontlines against guerrillas.

Coalition spokesman Dan Senor called the policemen’s role in the attack “an exception” and defended what he called a “robust” process of vetting police recruits to try to uncover criminal pasts or links to Saddam’s regime. “But it is not perfect,” he said. “Individuals slip through the cracks. We act to identify it and remove them immediately.”

FBI experts were investigating the attack that killed the three, amid conflicting reports over the shooting outside the town of Hillah. Polish troops patrolling the region said the police stopped the victims’ car at a checkpoint and shot them to death.

Kimmitt, however, said the attackers may have been in a second car that ran the coalition staffers off the road.

The American civilians were the first from the U.S. occupation authority to be killed in Iraq. One was Fern Holland, 33, a human rights expert from Oklahoma who worked on women’s issues in the Hillah region. The other was a regional press officer, Robert J. Zangas, 44, of suburban Pittsburgh.

Kimmitt said four of the six men in custody, caught together in the same car soon after the attack, had current police identification. Investigators were examining whether they were authentic but “we believe they are valid,” he said.

U.S. officials have trained more than 70,000 Iraqi police officers, as well as some 25,000 members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, or ICDC, in a matter of months. New recruits undergo an eight-week training program, while veteran officers have three weeks of training on new techniques and democratic principles, Senor said.

Recruits are vetted, but records for criminal activity or past links to Saddam’s regime are scattered and difficult to track down.

On Monday, U.S. troops arrested one current and two former ICDC soldiers for selling weapons to insurgents and carrying out bomb attacks on the homes of Iraqis cooperating with American forces in Tikrit, Saddam’s hometown north of Baghdad.

Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a battalion commander in Tikrit, said infiltration is “not a major problem.”

“In terms of the ICDC, this is where those that were not properly scrutinized may sometimes have their loyalties elsewhere. But these represent a very small number,” he said.

Russell said information provided by ICDC officers led to the arrests, “proving that they don’t want a negative reputation” for their forces.

As part of the recruiting process in Tikrit, Russell said he has local tribal leaders vouch for those wanting to join – and those who don’t get the sheik’s nod are turned down. The three ICDC members caught Monday were trained outside the area and would not have gone through that process, he said.

AP correspondent Paul Garwood contributed to this report from Tikrit.

AP-ES-03-12-04 2258EST

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