U.S. military officials in Iraq say American troops killed 54 Iraqis Sunday during an intense battle with guerrillas who ambushed two Army convoys north of Baghdad.
Officials say U.S. troops beat back multiple simultaneous attacks on their convoys in the town of Samarra (100 kilometers north of the capital). Some accounts describe the battle as the bloodiest fighting since major combat ended in Iraq seven months ago.
In addition to the scores of Iraqi fighters who were killed, U.S. officials say 18 insurgents were wounded, and another eight were captured.
Some Iraqis are disputing the casualty reports. They say the death toll was much lower, and that most of those killed were civilians. Iraqi police have confirmed only eight deaths. There is also an unconfirmed report that two Iranians were among the dead.
One American civilian and five soldiers were wounded during the firefight, but a U.S. military spokesman says no Americans were killed.
U.S. officials say the convoys were carrying supplies of cash to two Iraqi banks when they were attacked from all sides by guerrillas firing small arms, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Some of the attackers wore uniforms of the Fedayeen--a militia loyal to ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
About 100 U.S. troops were in the two convoys. U.S. officers say they faced a combined force of 60 to 80 Iraqi fighters.
The fighting in Samarra was the latest in a series of attacks aimed at American soldiers and others connected to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. South Korea says two of its citizens--civilian engineers--were killed in a roadside attack north of Baghdad Sunday.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.