Marines Kill 100 Fighters In Sanctuary Near Syria

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 10, 2005

BAGHDAD, May 9 -- More than 1,000 Marines backed by Cobra helicopter gunships and F-18 jets attacked targets Monday in a region of northwestern Iraq that commanders called a sanctuary for foreign fighters.

As many as 100 insurgents were killed and 10 captured in the assault near the Syrian border, which began late Sunday night, according to Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a spokesman with Marine Regimental Combat Team 2, which is leading the assault.

One Marine was killed in fighting that included some house-to-house combat, Pool said.

"Operations are being described here as running smoothly. The targets were predetermined mostly by intelligence from local citizens and from other sources," he said in an e-mail message. "Some buildings that insurgents were fighting from were leveled, and we have not sifted through to get the full [casualty] count."

The assault was centered on the town of Ubaydi in an area along the long, porous Syrian border where foreign guerrillas have frequently crossed into Iraq to join the insurgency. Three weeks ago, insurgents mounted large-scale, sustained attacks on a Marine base on the border and briefly seized control of the border town of Qaim.

Pool said Marines believe that foreign fighters often stopped in the desolate region after crossing from Syria. "There they would arm and get their missions to conduct in the more populated areas of Ramadi, Fallujah, Mosul and Baghdad," he said.

In Baghdad, meanwhile, a prominent Sunni Muslim political organization said its headquarters and the home of one of its leaders were raided and that 22 people were arrested, including two of the group's members.

At a news conference in an office littered with shattered glass and ransacked furniture, members of the National Dialogue Council, which has been negotiating with Iraq's new Shiite Muslim-led government over the makeup of the cabinet, denounced the raid and said it was intended to disrupt the group's efforts to foster unity among the country's main factions.

"Our reaction will be continuing our work to make all the Iraqis unite," said a member of the council, Salih Mutlak. "We will complain to the government to stop this kind of reckless behavior that will lead to more security tension and separation among the Iraqis."

Details of the raid were still vague late Monday. Dialogue Council members said that U.S. forces had joined in the raid, but Robert Callahan, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, denied any such involvement.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari learned about the incident after it took place, according to spokesman Laith Kubba, who said it was unclear whether Iraqi soldiers, police or both were involved.

Kubba said the raid might have been provoked by a tip from a group seeking to disrupt political negotiations by alleging ties between the Dialogue Council and insurgents.

Leaflets strewn around the council's office bore photos of a burning building that appeared to be the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad, which was bombed in August 2003. "If you helped Zarqawi or his group, your house will be the next," one slogan read, referring to Abu Musab Zarqawi, the Jordanian insurgent leader.

The raid was the latest bout of turbulence to buffet a government that, since the legislative elections more than three months ago, has been mired in squabbling among religious and ethnic groups that delayed the formation of a cabinet.

All but one of 37 cabinet positions -- human rights minister -- have been filled.

Underscoring the sensitivity of the process, cabinet members were sworn in Monday, many for the second time because their initial oath had omitted words declaring their commitment to protect Iraq's "federal, democratic" system, a phrase Kurdish representatives believe preserves some of their autonomy in the country's north.

Meanwhile, across Iraq, the violence that had escalated during the period of uncertainty over the new cabinet in recent weeks continued Monday.

Insurgents took a Japanese man hostage after attacking an Iraqi military convoy near the western city of Hit, according to a statement posted on the Internet and quoted by news services. The Japanese government confirmed the kidnapping of Akihiko Saito, who according to the Associated Press was working at a U.S. military base.

A militant group, the Ansar al-Sunna Army, said that 12 Iraqi security workers and four foreign contract workers were killed in an ambush, and that Saito, who was identified as an employee of the Cyprus-based security firm Hart GMSSCO -- the former name of Hart Security Ltd. -- was badly injured, the AP reported.

The details of the attack could not be confirmed Monday night.

Meanwhile, an Australian Muslim cleric left for Baghdad hoping to win the release of Douglas Wood, 63, an Australian who lives in California. A militant group holding Wood demanded in a video released Friday that Australia withdraw its troops from Iraq.

Elsewhere, a car bomb shook the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Ilam at about 9 a.m., engulfing several vehicles in flames. Two Iraqi policemen and a civilian were killed, the AP reported.

And in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, Gen. Huraish Nimrawi, a security official in charge of protecting the oil refinery there, was shot and killed, according to military and hospital sources.

Correspondent Caryle Murphy and special correspondents Bassam Sebti and Omar Fekeiki in Baghdad and Salih Saif Aldin in Tikrit contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company