Raging battles, foreign hostages

More forces deployed to challenge insurgency

anti-U.S. attitude grows

Crisis In Iraq

April 09, 2004|By Alissa J. Rubin | Alissa J. Rubin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A widening insurgency battled U.S.-led coalition forces to a standstill across a broad section of Iraq yesterday, extending its tactics to the kidnapping of foreigners by taking hostage nearly a dozen missionaries and aid workers.

A year after the fall of Baghdad, Shiite militia fighters allied with an anti-American cleric were in control of the populous southern cities of Najaf, Kufa and, to some extent, Kut. They were fighting coalition troops for the holy city of Karbala.

Despite a massive presence of U.S. Marines in and around Fallujah, west of Baghdad, Sunni insurgents maintained their hold on the city. Accounts by reporters accompanying Marine units said they were fighting street-to-street yesterday, taking heavy rocket, mortar and small arms fire from factories, homes and mosques.

Meanwhile, one interim Cabinet minister resigned, dealing a blow to U.S. efforts to create an Iraqi government authority that can stand on its own.

Gun battles shattered the night in several Baghdad neighborhoods, and the city of Abu Ghraib, west of the capital, was virtually impassable for several hours because of heavy gunfire between U.S. troops and Iraqi gunmen.

Insurgents kidnapped several foreign civilians from Japan, South Korea, Canada and Britain yesterday and threatened to execute them.

The South Koreans were later released, but the three Japanese civilians appeared in a video broadcast on the Al-Jazeera news channel blindfolded, while their black-garbed captors threatened them with guns, knives and swords.

In less than a week, the uprisings -- some of which followed the arrest on murder charges of a top aide to fundamentalist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- has imperiled the U.S.-led occupation.

In Washington, the Pentagon today was expected to announce extended tours of duty for some Army troops in Iraq, defense officials said on condition of anonymity.

Some members of the 1st Armored Division, which was preparing to return home after a yearlong stint, were told they would have to remain in Iraq for another 120 days.

Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, pledged that the coalition would eliminate the militia of al-Sadr and bring Sunni insurgents under control in Fallujah. He acknowledged that violence would likely continue for some time. A new military operation, named Operation Resolute Sword, has begun to remove al-Sadr's forces, he said.

"Sadr's gang is attempting without success to sabotage progress toward a free and independent Iraq," Sanchez said. "It is attempting to intimidate the majority of moderate citizens of the country who seek democracy and a society that is ruled by law, and not by the barrel of a gun."

A hard-line approach could make new enemies for the U.S.

Popular sentiment against the occupation reached new heights yesterday as large contingents of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, furious about the deaths of civilians at the hands of the U.S. military, organized a mass demonstration in Baghdad.

They joined forces to gather food, money, medicine and blood donations to send to anti-American insurgents in Fallujah. The city is under siege by some 2,500 U.S. Marines, who are fighting to capture militants that killed and mutilated four American contractors last week.

The three Japanese were captured by gunmen in southern Iraq and were shown repeatedly on the Al Jazeera satellite channel blindfolded, their hands bound, as masked gunmen with automatic weapons threatened to burn them unless Japan agreed to withdraw from Iraq.

The threat -- not broadcast on Japanese television -- was replayed on Arab stations throughout the day. Eight Korean Christian missionaries affiliated with the National Biblical Christian Federation Church in Baghdad were captured on the road between the Jordanian border and Baghdad but were later released.

In a third kidnapping incident, two men who had been seized several days ago by a little known group Ansar a-Din in Najaf were shown on an Iranian television station admitting that they were Israelis. The Israeli government confirmed that they were Arabs from east Jerusalem.

The two men were shown in a televised videotape identifying themselves as Nabil George Razouk, 30, and Ahmed Yassin Tikati, 33. They described themselves as international aid workers.

In the original broadcast on the Iranian network, the two were described as Israeli spies. The videotape showed their Israeli identification documents, an Israeli health maintenance organization card, a supermarket discount card and an American driver's license.

An aide to al-Sadr said that the Mahdi Army, al-Sadr's militia, also had taken hostages, declaring that they held four Spanish people.

Compounding the overall sense of insecurity was the abrupt resignation of Interior Minister Nouri Badran, apparently at the request of civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer III.

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