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U.S. Forces Prepare to Retake City in N. Iraq

By Steve Fainaru
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2004; Page A24

MOSUL, Iraq, Sept. 11 -- The commanding general of U.S. forces fighting in the northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar said Saturday that he believed the insurgency would be defeated within a week, allowing a deposed local government to be reinstated.

In an interview, Brig. Gen. Carter Ham said about 200 fighters remained in Tall Afar, a city of 250,000 between Mosul and the Syrian border. Ham said U.S. forces were collecting intelligence in preparation for driving the insurgents out of the city.


A British soldier guards the site of a car bombing near a U.S. consular office in the southern city of Basra. The blast killed two people. (Atef Hassan -- Reuters)

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Asked how long he thought it would take, Ham said: "I'd say a week." He cautioned that the timetable could change, depending on events and the resilience of the insurgency.

"The enemy understands that the outcome is not at all uncertain," said Ham, speaking aboard a Black Hawk helicopter during a two-hour flight between Baghdad and Mosul. "The outcome is to return the city to local leaders."

Meanwhile, in the southern part of the country, a car bomb exploded within 50 yards of a U.S. consular office in Basra, killing two people who were sitting in a nearby car and injuring three. No Americans were killed or injured, according to the Reuters news agency.

Soldiers from the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, also known as the Stryker Brigade, launched a fierce attack on Tall Afar on Thursday, seeking to remove insurgents who, according to Ham, had paralyzed the local government and co-opted the police force. The fighting, which included three airstrikes involving AC-130 gunships and F-16 fighter jets, killed 67 insurgents, according to the U.S. military.

Ham described the fighters as a collection of Sunni Muslim extremists, Baath Party holdovers and foreign fighters, possibly Saudis. He said the U.S. intervened at the request of the provincial governor after local officials acknowledged that they had lost control of the town.

U.S. troops were still positioned on the outskirts of the city Saturday and were manning checkpoints. Ham said he believed that most of those in the city were opposed to U.S.-led forces and that few civilians remained there.

[Strong explosions shook central Baghdad early Sunday, and fighting erupted on a major street in the heart of the city near the U.S.-guarded Green Zone, the Associated Press reported.]

The Tall Afar operation was launched the same day U.S. troops moved into Samarra, 65 miles north of Baghdad, to reinstall the government in that city. But Ham said the two operations, which also coincided with the bombing of the insurgent-held city of Fallujah, were not coordinated.

Near Baqubah, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, fighters kidnapped the family of an Iraqi National Guard officer and set fire to his home, Reuters reported Saturday. The wife and three children of Col. Khalis Ali Hussein were seized on Wednesday, said Maj. Gen. Walid Khalid, the head of the Diyala provincial police force, Reuters reported.


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