U.S. to press on in Iraq, Armitage says

Deputy secretary of state concedes that casualties have a sobering impact

November 09, 2003|By John Daniszewski | John Daniszewski,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said during a visit here yesterday that U.S. officials have been sobered by a mounting toll of casualties in Iraq, but he insisted that America will press forward and take the fight to the enemy.

Armitage's remarks came at the end of the bloodiest week for coalition forces since April.

The day began with the deaths of two U.S. paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division who were killed in a land mine explosion just outside the restive city of Fallujah. It ended with several mortars falling near the Republican Palace complex in central Baghdad, the third such bombardment of the headquarters of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority in a week. There were apparently no injuries.

Citing what it called an unacceptable security threat, the International Committee of the Red Cross announced yesterday that it is closing its offices in Baghdad and Basra. Twelve people died in a suicide car bombing at the Red Cross' Baghdad headquarters Oct. 27, but the organization said it was unwilling to accept military protection because of its governing policy of neutrality.

Yesterday's U.S. deaths brought to 35 the number of coalition troops killed in the first eight days of November, a figure that included 34 U.S. soldiers and one allied Polish major.

Sixteen of the deaths occurred in an attack on a Chinook helicopter near Fallujah a week ago, and six came Friday when a Black Hawk helicopter was apparently shot down near the main U.S. base in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Army officials identified members of the 101st Airborne Division yesterday as victims in the Friday crash. The Fort Campbell, Ky., soldiers were Capt. Joseph B. Smith, 29, of Monroe City, Mo.; Chief Warrant Officer Kyran E. Kennedy, 43, of Boston; Staff Sgt. Paul M. Neff, 30, of South Carolina; and Sgt. Scott C. Rose, 30, of Massachusetts.

The other two passengers were not identified. They were not assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, officials said.

In response to Friday's crash, U.S. F-16 warplanes dropped three 500-pound bombs near Tikrit yesterday and shelled several abandoned houses and structures thought to have provided cover to insurgents. Troops accompanied by Bradley fighting vehicles also swept the area along the Tigris River near where the Black Hawk fell.

"This was a show for force," said Maj. Gordon Tate, a spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, which has headquarters in one of Hussein's former palaces in Tikrit. "It shows we have the ability to strike back, and it demonstrates our resolve."

Dropping bombs on an empty landscape as a pure demonstration of power is an unusual tactic, underscoring the military's fury at the downing of three helicopters in two weeks. In addition to the Fallujah and Tikrit crashes, a helicopter was brought down near Tikrit on Oct. 25 without fatalities.

Investigators have not determined what brought down the Black Hawk, although officials have ruled out a ground-to-air missile, such as the one suspected of having taken down the Chinook. Military spokesmen said a rocket-propelled grenade or small-arms fire might have been the cause of the crash, but Tate said mechanical failure has not been ruled out.

Armitage, who is touring several Arab Middle Eastern countries, expressed confidence in the U.S. forces but acknowledged that "it's not a secret to anyone that in the Baghdad, Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah area, we've got a security problem. We're sobered by the problem, but after discussions today ... I am absolutely convinced that we have a very solid plan to go out and get these people who are killing us and killing Iraqis.

"We're going to take this fight to the enemy," he said.

In other developments yesterday, the coalition announced the arrest of a suspected former bodyguard of Hussein during a raid near Kirkuk in northern Iraq and confiscated several weapons and ammunition.

The statement said the military had been tipped that the suspect was active in attacks against U.S. forces in recent weeks.

In Baghdad, small-arms fire erupted throughout Baghdad about 11 p.m., sounding like a major battle. But it turned out to be spontaneous celebration of an Iraqi soccer victory.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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