U.S. troops face new dangers

Suicide car bomb kills four American soldiers at checkpoint near Najaf

Baghdad promises more attacks

Most ground forces stay in place as allied aircraft strike Republican Guard

War In Iraq

March 30, 2003|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In a potentially ominous turn of events for American forces in Iraq, a car bomb exploded yesterday with deadly force at a U.S. military checkpoint near the central Iraqi city of Najaf, killing four American soldiers along with the bomber.

Iraqi officials were quick to bestow posthumous honors on the army officer they identified as the bomber, and they pledged that more suicide attacks would take place.

Suicide attacks will become "routine military policy," Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told reporters in Baghdad. "And I say to the United States administration that it will turn the whole world into people who are willing to die for their nations."

Most American ground forces stayed in position for a fifth day, delaying an advance toward Baghdad, while U.S. and British aircraft continued to bomb Republican Guard divisions guarding the capital around the clock, striking tanks, artillery pieces and other targets in an effort to weaken the regime's elite divisions and reduce their ability to fend off a U.S. land assault.

It was not clear when the American forces would resume moving north or how much materiel a military airlift was bringing to the airbase that American paratroopers established last week in northern Iraq. U.S. military spokesmen denied reports that the crucial battle on the outskirts of Baghdad had been put on hold for up to six more days so that more supplies could reach front-line soldiers, some of whom have reported shortages of food and water.

Southeast of Baghdad, U.S. Marine units were going house to house as they made their way through towns and villages on their drive north.

Fighting also continued against paramilitaries in several southern Iraq cities, including Nasiriyah, scene of some of the deadliest combat since Vietnam for U.S. Marines, who recovered the bodies of a number of fallen comrades yesterday.

U.S. military spokesmen at Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said that the frequency of Iraqi attacks on the supply lines is dropping and that the resupply flow to the front is "adequate.

President Bush, spending the weekend at the Camp David retreat in Central Maryland, held an hourlong teleconference with his top advisers, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his weekly radio address, recorded Friday, Bush continued to dampen optimism about a quick end to the fighting, which he described as "fierce." New public opinion surveys show that most Americans now believe the war will last for months, rather than weeks.

"We do not know its duration, yet we know the outcome of this battle," said Bush, referring repeatedly to Saddam Hussein as "the dictator" and not mentioning his name. "The Iraqi regime will be disarmed and removed from power," Bush added. "Iraq will be free."

As the war entered its 11th day, the conflict extended to the images and language employed by each side, part of a pivotal battle for public opinion in the United States, the Middle East and the rest of the world.

In Baghdad, government officials hailed the car-bomber as a martyr in the war against the West. U.S. military spokesmen, who refer to Iraq's unconventional forces as "terrorist death squads," saw the bombing as further evidence of an increasingly "desperate" and "inhuman" Iraqi regime with no regard for the laws of war or civilized behavior.

The U.S. Central Command confirmed that four members of the Army's 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division were killed in the incident, which occurred about 10:40 a.m., Baghdad time.

Eyewitnesses said a taxi stopped just short of a highway checkpoint north of the Euphrates River town of Najaf, and the driver began waving his arms for help. When U.S. soldiers approached, the vehicle exploded.

Iraqi officials identified the bomber as a junior army officer, Ali Jaafar al-Noamani, who was immediately given two posthumous medals by Hussein, as shown on Iraqi television. It said the bomber wanted to "teach the invaders a lesson in the same manner as our Palestinian martyrdom fighters."

Iraqi Vice President Ramadan said in Baghdad that such attacks are "just the beginning" of a new wave of suicide violence against U.S-led forces in Iraq and American citizens in the United States.

"We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land, and we will follow the enemy into its land," Ramadan said.

The deadly incident was the first such terrorist-style bombing of the Iraq war. It underscored the growing dangers that American troops face, even in areas of the country that the U.S. government says are no longer under the control of Hussein's regime.

"We're very concerned about it," said Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, an operations officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. "It looks and feels like terrorism."

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