A fresh wave of attacks on US forces in Iraq has left at least three soldiers dead, just hours after a message attributed to Saddam Hussein called for continued resistance against Iraq’s “occupiers”.

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Guerrillas have killed three US soldiers and wounded two others in an ambush near the ousted president’s hometown of Tikrit.

Lieutenant-Colonel William MacDonald said the 4th Infantry Division troops were killed in small arms fire 8 km south of Tikrit when they were inspecting a suspected rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) weapons site.

In Khaldiyah, 80km west of Baghdad, witnesses reported seeing US forces take heavy casualties when a vehicle carrying soldiers was attacked before catching fire.

The witnesses reported seeing between four and eight badly burned US soldiers pulled out of the burning vehicle.

The military says two soldiers were wounded in an attack near Ramadi, west of Khaldiyah, but would not confirm the reports of heavy casualties in the same area.

The attacks came as French President Jacques Chirac called on Washington to transfer power to an Iraqi government within months.

Mr Chirac’s call came after talks firming up French and German positions ahead of a weekend summit with Britain.

Meanwhile, politicians in the US have questioned the number of lucrative Iraq reconstruction contracts given to an oil company with links to the Bush administration.

The value of the contracts given to Halliburton has skyrocketed, prompting new calls to investigate the propriety of the deals.

Halliburton was formerly run by Vice-President Dick Cheney.

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