Samarra called mostly under control

But aid workers describe a trying scene after raid

October 03, 2004|By Thomas S. Mulligan and Suhail Ahmed | Thomas S. Mulligan and Suhail Ahmed,LOS ANGELES TIMES

AD DAWR, Iraq - As U.S.-led forces consolidated their control over rebellious Samarra yesterday, humanitarian officials described a hellish scene in the city after a two-day offensive by 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops.

The morgue in Samarra's main hospital was overflowing, requiring corpses to be laid on the floor in an unrefrigerated hall, said Nura abid Bakir, director of the Red Crescent branch in the northern province of Salahuddin, where Samarra is located. She cited reports from Red Crescent volunteers who had visited the hospital.

Military authorities said 125 insurgents were killed and 88 captured in what is meant to be the first of a number of large-scale strikes to quell resistance in rebel hot spots. The operations are intended to help national elections scheduled for January to proceed safely and with broad participation.

Authorities said Samarra was largely under control. Over the two days, one U.S. soldier was killed and four were wounded. Three members of the Iraqi security forces were also wounded.

Also yesterday, an Internet videotape was released that appeared to show members of a group calling itself Ansar al-Sunna beheading an Iraqi contracting engineer who worked with the U.S.-led reconstruction effort. Before the execution, the contractor, wearing a white T-shirt and holding his identification card, was shown reading a statement acknowledging his participation in several infrastructure projects.

Insurgents have used kidnappings, beheadings and other tactics to intimidate those cooperating with efforts to pacify and rebuild the country.

In Samarra, yesterday's continued fighting and the presence of U.S. snipers on rooftops forced some injured civilians to stay in their homes rather than seek medical treatment, according to Bakir and accounts from witnesses. It also prevented residents from fleeing to a makeshift refugee camp set up the day before in the village of Ad Dawr, about 12 miles north of the city, they said.

Ambulances were unable to travel into the neighborhoods to pick up the injured, and in some places bodies lay in the street, witnesses in Ad Dawr said.

The refugee camp, a small tent village built by the Red Crescent, had received only a handful of Samarra residents as of yesterday afternoon. The Red Crescent is the Middle Eastern version of the Red Cross.

Samarra and Tikrit, the hometown of deposed President Saddam Hussein, lie inside the Sunni Triangle, a stronghold of support for Hussein's Sunni Muslim Baath Party north and west of Baghdad. Also within the triangle are Ramadi and Fallujah, two volatile cities west of the capital that are likely targets for future large-scale military incursions.

In Fallujah, the military said it launched an airstrike yesterday against a building on the outskirts of town where 15 to 20 rebels were conducting "military-style training." There was no word on casualties.

That attack followed one a day earlier on a suspected hide-out of insurgents loyal to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Hospital officials said seven were killed and more than 10 wounded in that strike. The town has been stuck repeatedly by U.S. warplanes in recent weeks.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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