Troops killed in Iraq as guerrillas hit quarters

5 U.S.

Car bomb, mortars strike building where they sleep

July 09, 2004|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Insurgents unleashed a combined mortar and car bomb attack in Samarra yesterday that killed five U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi National Guardsmen, sparking an afternoon of clashes and firefights in the Sunni Triangle city.

The outbreak of violence, one of the fiercest exchanges between U.S. troops and insurgents since the U.S.-led coalition relinquished sovereignty nearly two weeks ago, came just a day after Iraq's interim government vowed to crush the 15-month- old resistance with a host of tougher security measures, including the power to impose martial law.

Guerrillas attacked a building used as sleeping quarters by U.S. 1st Infantry Division troops and Iraqi National Guard soldiers, firing at least 38 mortar rounds at the building and detonating a car bomb outside the structure, said 1st Infantry Division Master Sgt. Robert Powell. It was not known whether the car bomb was a suicide attack.

The midmorning attack caused the building to collapse. In addition to the seven dead, at least 20 U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi guardsmen were wounded. U.S. troops used radar to determine where the mortar fire came from and fired back four 120 mm mortar rounds, Powell said.

Fighting in the streets continued through the afternoon as U.S. and Iraqi security forces worked in patrols to track down insurgents. Apache helicopters fired Hellfire missiles at a building where four guerrillas took refuge, destroying the building and killing the insurgents, Powell said.

Violence throughout the day also killed at least three civilians and wounded up to 44, the Associated Press reported.

Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is one of several cities within the so-called Sunni Triangle regarded as full of pockets or strongholds of resistance against U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

Since the handover of power June 28, Iraq has experienced a lull in certain kinds of violence. The car bombing in Samarra was the second such attack since the handover; a car bomb that exploded Tuesday near another Sunni city, Baqouba, killed at least 14 people.

A coalition military spokesman said this week that although attacks with small-arms fire, mortar rounds and rocket-propelled grenades have not subsided, car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations have dropped since the handover.

On Wednesday, Iraqi officials unveiled tough security measures aimed at quelling the insurgency, including provisions to declare martial law in areas where violence flares and the authority to set curfews and conduct search operations.

Although Iraqi authorities have said they can rely on their security forces to carry out the country's new security laws, many believe that the interim government ultimately will have to rely on the involvement of U.S. and coalition troops. The response to the violence yesterday in Samarra was largely carried out by U.S. troops.

"The Iraqi forces are simply not ready yet to take over security of the country," said Mohammed Abdel Jabbar, editor of the Baghdad newspaper al Sabah. "We still need the multinational forces to help the Iraqi government with security."

Coalition military officials have said that several issues remain to be worked out, including a delineation of the role that the 160,000-strong contingent of U.S. and foreign troops would play during a state of emergency.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said he supports Iraq's new security laws. "In terms of if they will be more effective, I would think so," he said.

Also yesterday, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ordered her country's contract workers not to travel to Iraq, a move that came after insurgents threatened to kill a Filipino hostage if the Philippines continues to keep 51 of its soldiers in Iraq.

More than 4,000 Filipino civilians work as contractors for the U.S. military, serving food, cleaning toilets and forming the backbone of the support staff for U.S. troops.

Arroyo did not react yesterday to the demand for the withdrawal of troops. A videotape broadcast Wednesday on Arab television showed the Filipino hostage with three armed, masked men. They gave the Philippines three days to complete the withdrawal.

The country's tiny contingent was scheduled to end its deployment this month, though Arroyo must decide whether to extend it.

The Philippine charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Ricardo Endaya, confirmed that the hostage was a Filipino abducted near the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah. ABS-CBN TV, quoting the Philippine ambassador in Qatar, identified him as Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver who crossed into Iraq from Saudi Arabia.

Separately, a group loyal to insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatened early today to execute two Bulgarian hostages if the U.S. military does not release all Iraqi detainees within 24 hours, according to a videotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera television. The Tawhid and Jihad group previously claimed responsibility for beheading U.S. businessman Nicholas Berg and South Korean translator Kim Sun Il.

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