BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.S. Marines pummeled guerrillas taking cover Saturday at a taxi stand in a stronghold of support for Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime, killing three and wounding five others, military and hospital officials said.

The Marines came under fire in Ramadi, part of the so-called Sunni Triangle and the site of frequent clashes with coalition forces, the military said. The Americans counterattacked, blasting the stand into a twisted pile of molten metal. Blood soaked the street.

At Ramadi’s hospital, a child caught in the crossfire moaned in agony, video from Associated Press Television News showed.

“We went to the market near the stand, and the Americans struck against us,” said the child, who did not give his name.

North of the capital, insurgents blew up three liquor stores in Baqouba prompting concern Islamic militants may be trying to impose their strict interpretation of Islam there, witnesses said. The blasts killed a passing taxi driver, said Dr. Nassir Jawad from Baqouba General Hospital.

Iraq has been torn by a persistent insurgency since the fall of Saddam more than 14 months ago.

Also Saturday, saboteurs attacked a natural gas pipeline that runs from the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk to a power station, an official with the North Oil Company said.

The attack could cut power supplies even as Iraq sizzles in summer temperatures topping 110 degrees Fahrenheit, but it wasn’t clear how severe cutbacks would be.

Insurgents have targeted the country’s crude oil, natural gas and electricity supplies to cut off sources of revenue to Iraq’s interim government. Such attacks, together with hostage taking and other acts of intimidation, are intended to disrupt efforts to stabilize and rebuild the country.

Bulgaria expressed hope that two Bulgarian truck drivers also kidnapped by militants here were still alive.

Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group threatened to kill the men if the United States did not release all Iraqi detainees – an ultimatum that has expired.

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi suggested Saturday that the men were still alive, though he warned the information was “unconfirmed.”

President Bush telephoned Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov on Saturday to discuss the hostage situation.

Bush offered to assist but refused to negotiate with terrorists, the White House said. Parvanov affirmed Bulgaria’s strong commitment to Iraq.

A Pakistani truck driver who returned home after being held hostage here said Saturday he watched as three fellow captives were beheaded. Amjad Hafeez, 26, said he was taken to a room where two foreigners and an Iraqi were killed with a sword.

Hafeez told The Associated Press the two foreigners were “English-speaking people” who were crying, weeping and begging for their lives. He said they were killed June 27, but there was no confirmation on their identities.

Both an American hostage and a South Korean known to have been killed by the group were reportedly slain before that date.

Earlier Saturday, a senior military official in Bulgaria, Gen. Stefan Stefanov, deputy chief of the military intelligence service, dismissed speculation that the two Bulgarians were the victims Hafeez saw die.

AP-ES-07-10-04 1445EDT



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