Anti-U.S. Uprising Widens in Iraq; Marines Push Deeper Into Fallujah
As the Marines fought their way into Fallujah, Byrne and other officers said, about 40 armed men opened fire on the Americans with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades from a bunker at the Abdelaziz Samarrai mosque. Four Marines in a Humvee several blocks away were wounded.
After ground attacks failed to flush out the fighters, Marine officers at different command posts in the city debated how to respond. After a few hours of discussion, they decided to order an airstrike.
An AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter fired a rocket at the mosque compound, and an F-16 fighter jet dropped a 500-pound bomb on the site, military officials said. They said the bomb and rocket destroyed part of a wall surrounding the mosque but not the mosque itself. The Marines said in a statement that one insurgent was killed in the attack.
The insurgents "firing from the mosque wrongfully violated the law of war by conducting offensive military operations from a protected structure," the Marine statement said. "As a result, the mosque lost its protected status and therefore became a lawful military target."
One Marine was killed in the fighting Wednesday and six were wounded by rifle and grenade fire, military officials said. Eighteen Marines have been killed since Monday in fighting west of Baghdad, including at least 12 in an attack on Tuesday in the vicinity of the provincial governor's office in Ramadi.
The Marines have not released any details about the incident in Ramadi other than a brief statement noting that the firefight lasted for seven hours and that 11 soldiers were killed in the fighting and a 12th died later of his wounds. The Associated Press, citing witness accounts, reported that the battle started when gunmen hiding in Ramadi's main cemetery opened fire on U.S. patrols.
The military on Wednesday announced the deaths of two more U.S. soldiers. One soldier with the Army's 1st Infantry Division was killed on Tuesday in Balad, a town north of Baghdad that is home to a large U.S. air base. The other soldier, assigned to a task force commanded by the Army's 1st Armored Division, died Wednesday in Baghdad after his convoy was struck with a rocket-propelled grenade near a police station.
Since Sunday, fighting across Iraq has claimed the lives of 34 Americans, two other coalition soldiers and more than 190 Iraqis. In the nearly 13 months since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, 635 American service personnel have died, 444 of them as a result of hostile action.
In Sadr City, officials at the two main hospitals said 64 Iraqis had been killed and 238 wounded in clashes since Sunday. Most of the casualties were men, but officials said women and children were among the dead and wounded.
Sadr City was largely quiet Wednesday, but the mood was angry. Conversations dwelled on the bloodshed over the previous three nights, and residents exchanged stories about the fighting -- houses hit by helicopter fire, cars struck by gunfire, civilians killed.
"Anybody who goes out at night, the Americans will kill them," said Walid Khaled, 24, one of several men crowded around a charred car.
Through the day, crowds gathered around Sadr's office, carrying flags and pictures of the 30-year-old cleric. At 5 p.m., young men from across the street ran toward the office as a loudspeaker blared Sadr's latest statement from Najaf: "I call upon the American people to stand beside their brethren, the Iraqi people, who are suffering an injustice by your rulers and the occupying army, to help them in the transfer of power to honest Iraqis," the statement read. "Otherwise Iraq will become another Vietnam for America and the occupiers."
With Sadr's militia exercising full or partial control of several southern cities, Kimmitt, the military spokesman, said in response to questioning that occupation forces had not arrested the cleric partly because a major Shiite religious festival, Arbaeen, begins later this week. "We've got to recognize the time and the number of pilgrims outside Najaf city right now," he said.
Sadr's militiamen took over Kut when the Ukrainians withdrew from the city after overnight gun battles killed 12 Iraqis, the Associated Press reported. The Mahdi Army occupied the Ukrainians' base, seized weapons caches and planted their flag on a nearby grain silo.
In Karbala, as in Kufa and other cities south of Baghdad, Sadr's militiamen have assumed effective control of the municipality. Black-shirted members of the Mahdi Army have taken over police stations and government buildings.
Polish soldiers attempting to patrol Karbala were attacked Wednesday by the militiamen, prompting several firefights. A senior leader of Sadr's militia was killed in one of the battles.
Correspondents Anthony Shadid, Karl Vick and Sewell Chan in Baghdad and Pamela Constable in Fallujah contributed to this report.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company