By Dean Yates
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. warplanes have bombed targets in Iraq in air strikes that resumed last week for the first time in more than six months after the shooting down of three U.S. helicopters.
The renewed air strikes on Sunday came as Iraq's interim foreign minister promised that local leaders would meet a December deadline for setting out a path towards self-rule.
The pledge by Hoshiyar Zebari came amid frustration expressed by occupation officials that Iraqi politicians have not moved more quickly to draw up plans for taking over power.
In the new air strikes, F-16 fighter-bombers dropped three 500-pound bombs near the flashpoint town of Falluja, in the area west of Baghdad where 16 American soldiers were killed when a U.S. Chinook helicopter was downed a week ago.
The air strikes early on Sunday followed attacks on U.S. troops, a U.S. military source said. He had no precise details.
Warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on suspected guerrilla hideouts on Friday night around Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, 110 miles north of Baghdad, where a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter was shot down that day, killing all six aboard.
That was the first time U.S. planes had bombed Iraq since the official end of major combat on May 1. A third U.S. helicopter, a Black Hawk, was downed near Tikrit on October 25.
Another U.S. soldier was killed and a comrade wounded late on Saturday when their vehicle ran over a bomb in Baghdad. A bomb also wounded a British soldier in the southern city of Basra.
On the political front, Iraq's Governing Council plans intense discussions to meet the U.S.-backed deadline of December 15 to spell out how and when it will create a new constitution and when it will hold elections, interim Foreign Minister Zebari said.
"The ball is now in our court and we must deliver," he said.
A coalition official told Reuters there was "fairly strong frustration" at the council's work. He said the coalition had made clear the constitution should be its top priority when the council was formed in July.
"Where are we four months on? We haven't moved yet," the official said.
Zebari said the December 15 deadline would be met, although implementation of the political roadmap depended on security.
FEAR AFTER BAGHDAD BLASTS
Several loud explosions echoed across Baghdad on Sunday night and police said a mortar bomb hit a house in the city centre, but there were no immediate reports of casualties and little damage. It appeared to be the fourth mortar attack by insurgents in the past week on the capital.
Residents said no one was hurt when the mortar bomb hit the two-storey house. The owner was frantic.
"There is still an explosive on the roof," shouted Khadija Mohammad. U.S. officials had no immediate details.
Guerrillas have grown increasingly bold in launching mortar attacks in the past week on the U.S.-led administration on the West side of the Tigris River. The attacks have not killed anyone but have wounded several personnel in the coalition.
Attacks on U.S. troops have left 150 dead in Iraq since President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1. Washington blames the attacks on loyalists of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam and foreign Muslim militants.
U.S. troops in Tikrit have launched a new operation in the hostile area to hunt down guerrillas. "If necessary, we'll carry out more shows of force," said Major Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division in Tikrit.
On Saturday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it was temporarily closing its offices in Baghdad and Basra. But the head of the Basra delegation said some foreign staff would stay in southern Iraq.
An October 27 suicide car bomb attack on the ICRC headquarters in Baghdad killed 12 people.