Rebels launch deadly attacks in Baghdad

U.S. forces bomb Fallujah today

dozens killed, scores injured in widespread violence

September 13, 2004|By Ashraf Khalil and Alissa J. Rubin | Ashraf Khalil and Alissa J. Rubin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Dozens were killed and scores wounded yesterday in a bloody day of violence across Iraq that saw at least three suicide car bombings and an exchange of gunfire between an Iraqi crowd and a U.S. helicopter crew.

The latest wave of attacks, which included hours of mortar fire on the Green Zone where the U.S. Embassy, interim Iraqi government and many U.S. contractors have their headquarters, was centered in Baghdad but included several cities in the Sunni Triangle of central Iraq.

At least 59 Iraqis were killed and 142 wounded yesterday, according to the Iraqi Health Ministry.

Three Polish soldiers were killed and three others injured when their convoy was attacked by insurgents with machine guns and armor-piercing bullets.

Mazen al-Tumeizi, a 26-year-old reporter for the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya television network, was killed when a U.S. armored vehicle, damaged by fighting in a Baghdad neighborhood, exploded shortly after a U.S. helicopter opened fire on a crowd of Iraqis gathered around it.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim called the day's carnage "a definite escalation of violence. ... They don't like the progress made by this government."

An Internet statement purportedly from a militant group associated with Jordanian insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for several of the day's attacks and said the rebellion had gained the upper hand.

The statement, which could not be independently confirmed, claimed the insurgency possessed the "capability to surprise the enemy and hit its strategic installations at the right time and place."

Bombing in Fallujah

The violence continued today when U.S. warplanes and artillery units bombed the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, killing at least nine people and wounding 12, hospital officials and witnesses said. The U.S. military had no immediate comment.

Witnesses said the bombing targeted the city's al-Shurta neighborhood, damaging buildings and raising clouds of black smoke.

The continuing tenacity and vigor of the insurgency highlight the hard road ahead for U.S. forces and Iraqi government officials as they seek to establish control of the country before parliamentary elections scheduled for January.

During appearances on news shows yesterday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said he believed the insurgency will be "brought under control."

"I think the insurgency can be brought down to a level, and I'd like to see it go away entirely," he said on Fox News Sunday.

He added that the United States planned to deal with cities in the Sunni Triangle that are outside the control of the Iraqi government and U.S.-led forces.

Fallujah, west of Baghdad, remains in the hands of local militants, while the U.S. military has limited access to the northern town of Samarra under terms of a deal struck last week with local tribal and religious leaders.

American military officers have floated the possibility of holding elections that would exclude uncontrolled towns, but U.S. Embassy officials have privately rejected that option.

"Our strategy for the next several months, our political and military strategy, will be to recover each of these places and put them firmly back under civilian control, under the control of the Iraqi interim government, so that elections can be held," Powell said.

In Baghdad, 13 people died and 61 were injured after the skirmish that ended with the explosion of a disabled Bradley fighting vehicle amid a crowd of Iraqis.

A U.S. helicopter crew exchanged fire with the crowd, and there were conflicting reports about whether the aircraft fired a rocket to destroy the disabled vehicle.

The clash began about 6 a.m. when a U.S. military patrol came under fire along central Baghdad's Haifa Street, a neighborhood known as a stronghold for insurgent activity. The Bradley fighting vehicle arrived to aid the patrol.

Shortly before 7 a.m., a suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the Bradley. The crew escaped from the damaged vehicle. As many as six of the Americans were reported injured in the blast or gunfire.

Air support was called in "to provide cover for the crew to escape," said Rear Adm. Greg Slavonic, a military spokesman.

A crowd of residents soon gathered around the remnants of the vehicle. Some waved the black sunburst flag of al-Zarqawi's militants.

Firing upon the crowd

The helicopter, on a subsequent pass, was fired upon by some in the crowd and returned fire, Slavonic said. The Bradley fighting vehicle exploded shortly afterward. Residents said the U.S. helicopter had fired a rocket.

"First they hit the tank, then they came back and targeted the crowd," said Ziad Salah, a 24-year-old whose apartment located directly in front of the Bradley was severely damaged.

The U.S. military said the helicopter crew was operating within its rules of engagement when it returned fire on the crowd but added that the incident was under investigation.

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