A massive car bomb blast outside the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad today killed up to 12 people, said rescuers.
More than 50 were injured, many of them seriously.
Later, a fierce gun battle broke out in the Iraqi capital, with US soldiers firing into a two-storey building after their Humvee came under rocket-propelled grenade attack.
The US vehicle could be seen burning. At least at eight Humvees were at the scene. There was heavy machine gun and automatic rifle fire. Two helicopters hovered above.
US forces stormed the building and emerged about five minutes later carrying a comrade. It was not immediately known if the soldier had been killed or just wounded.
Before taking the building, the military allowed about 20 civilians inside to come out with their hands in the air. Some carried white handkerchiefs. After the soldiers attacked, the building began burning and was gutted.
Central Command announced two soldiers were killed late last night in the Al Rashid district of Baghdad. Their translator was wounded. The military said the soldiers died in a gun battle but gave no other details.
The deaths ended a four day period in which no US forces had been killed. The deaths brought to 55 the number of US troops killed in combat since May 1, when President George Bush declared major fighting over.
Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of US ground forces in Iraq, said the attack on the Jordanian Embassy was “the worst on a soft target” since Baghdad fell to American forces in April.
Shortly after the blast, young Iraqi men stormed the embassy gate and began destroying pictures of Jordanian King Abdullah and his late father, King Hussein. They were shouting anti-Jordanian slogans, but were quickly dispersed by American forces and Iraqi police.
The Jordanian consul, Karim Shushan, was among the wounded.
The bomb was believed to have been planted in a minibus parked outside the walled embassy compound and detonated remotely. Many cars were gutted and two bodies were seen still sitting in the vehicles.
The chassis of the minibus landed on top of three of the burned out cars. One mangled vehicle could be seen on top of a building next to the embassy.
An American tank was parked outside the embassy compound on the west edge of Baghdad. Soldiers in armoured vehicles and Humvees cordoned off the area.
“I was sitting in the reception. I heard the first explosion, I ran out and then there was another explosion. Many employees were inside the embassy as well as Iraqis and Jordanians. Smoke filled the street,” said Shaheed Mazloum, 50, an Iraqi guard at the embassy.
Mandoh Gaahi, who witnessed the explosion, said the blast shook buildings and broke windows hundreds of yards away.
One wall of the embassy compound was blown down, revealing a generator, also apparently destroyed in the blast.
In Jordan, Information Minister Nabil al-Sharif condemned the “cowardly terrorist attack.”
“This criminal act will only boost our determination to continue our support for the brotherly Iraqi people,” he said.
Tensions between the neighbouring countries have been high because of Jordan’s support for the US led war on Iraq.
While Jordan is a major entry point into Iraq and remains a large trading partner, many Iraqis are resentful that Jordan dropped its support for Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Gulf War, and allowed American troops to use its soil as a base during the latest war.
King Abdullah last week granted “humanitarian asylum” to two daughters of Saddam, whose husbands took refuge in Jordan but were lured back and killed by Saddam’s regime in 1996.
Elsewhere, US forces captured four suspected leaders of resistance in pre-dawn raids – a day after the Americans netted 18 suspected Saddam Hussein loyalists and found a huge stockpile of weapons.
In Saddam’s home town of Tikrit, the US military said one of the four organised cells and paid and armed guerrilla fighters for attacks on American forces.