Clash between Marines, guerrillas kills 1 American, at least 6 Iraqis

European Union pushes for stronger U.N. role in transition of power

March 27, 2004|By Colin McMahon | Colin McMahon,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD - New to a city that has been a focal point of attacks against occupation forces, U.S. Marines made a rare move into the heart of Fallujah yesterday and came under heavy guerrilla fire, witnesses said. One Marine and at least six Iraqis were reported killed in the resulting firefights.

A doctor at the main Fallujah hospital put the death toll at eight, including three children and an Iraqi television cameraman working for ABC News. Two dozen people were wounded, news agencies quoted doctors as saying.

Heavy fire and explosions marked the running gunbattles, which witnesses said lasted hours. Marines then spread out on foot patrols through the mostly deserted city, a Sunni opposition bastion for which Marines formally took responsibility this week.

Another clash early yesterday near Tikrit took the lives of four Iraqi security troops and three suspected guerrillas, a U.S. military spokeswoman said. Four Iraqi soldiers were wounded in the raid, which led to the arrest of 21 people suspected of violently opposing the U.S.-led occupation.

Attacks on Iraqi police and civil defense forces, as well as on civilians working with the U.S.-led coalition, have been on the rise. Coalition officials fear such violence will worsen as the scheduled June 30 restoration of Iraqi sovereignty nears.

In the meantime, the United States has sought more international help in preparing Iraq for the handover of power. A United Nations advisory team arrived yesterday in Baghdad to offer advice to the interim Iraqi government on organizing elections.

Meeting in Brussels, the European Union called for the United Nations to assume a "vital and growing" function in postwar Iraq's political transition. It also called for a Security Council resolution that would give an international stamp of approval to the transfer of sovereignty.

The EU push for a stronger U.N. role might make Spain's incoming prime minister reconsider his pledge to pull troops from Iraq, diplomats told Reuters.

A U.N. resolution would help define Iraq's path, said French President Jacques Chirac, who clashed bitterly with the United States over President Bush's decision to depose Saddam Hussein militarily.

"But to tell you in this respect that I am very optimistic would be an exaggeration," Chirac said at a Brussels news conference.

The fighting in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad, is consistent with the city's reputation as a center of violent coalition opposition. American troops rarely venture into downtown. But having taken over this month from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, the Marines moved yesterday to assert their authority on the place.

The U.S. military in Baghdad confirmed later that one Marine was killed in the fighting and several were wounded.

An Agence France-Presse correspondent reported that the slain cameraman, identified as Burhan Mohammed Mazhour, was standing among a group of journalists covering the clashes when U.S. troops fired in their direction, hitting Mazhour in the forehead.

"We told him to stay back, but he insisted on moving forward," the correspondent said. "This is when the U.S. forces fired."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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