14 Marines Die in Huge Explosion in Western Iraq

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By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, August 4, 2005

BAGHDAD, Aug. 3 -- A Marine Reserve company that was known as "Lucky Lima" before suffering heavy casualties in May was hit Wednesday by the deadliest roadside bombing of the Iraq war, a massive explosion that killed 14 Marines and the unit's Iraqi interpreter, according to witnesses and military spokesmen.

The Marines were part of a convoy that was attacked on a desert road outside the western town of Haditha, one witness said. Rolling in armored vehicle after armored vehicle, the patrol was nearing the entrance to the town when a brilliant flash erupted in the middle of the convoy.

"Huge fire and dust rose from the place of the explosion," said Saad Mijbil, a motorist who said he witnessed the bombing and was later hospitalized with bullet wounds sustained in the chaotic aftermath.

The bomb blew apart the personnel carrier, known as an Amtrac, and ignited its load of fuel and explosives. Though he was 80 yards away, Mijbil said, the blast was strong enough to have broken the rear window of his pickup truck.

The U.S. military gave few details of the attack.

Nine of the dead Marines were members of Lima Company -- part of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit from Ohio that had been sent to the Syrian border to play a lead role in shutting off the main route for foreign gunmen and suicide bombers entering Iraq.

"They used to call it Lucky Lima," the company's commander, Maj. Steve Lawson, said in May after an urban ambush and a roadside bomb on successive days killed or wounded every member of one of Lima Company's three squads. "That turned around and bit us."

As it turned out, Lima Company and the rest of the 25th Regiment were beginning four months in which they would be bombed and ambushed in the grimy Euphrates River towns where U.S. commanders say foreign insurgents had moved freely. During the tour, 16 members of Lima Company have been killed, according to a military spokesman in Columbus, Ohio, 1st Sgt. James Halbig.

As a whole, the 25th Regiment suffered 20 dead in May and June. Then, with Wednesday's bombing and two attacks Monday, the number of dead more than doubled, to 41.

Gunmen killed at least five members of the regiment on a foot patrol Monday outside Haditha, the U.S. military said, and the body of a sixth Marine was found a mile or two from the firefight. The same day, a suicide bomber killed a Marine in the town of Hit, about 45 miles from Haditha, the military said.

The Ansar al-Sunna Army asserted responsibility for the killing of the six Marines on Monday and suggested in an Internet statement that it had killed some with knives. Al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent group led by Jordanian-born Abu Musab Zarqawi, asserted responsibility for Monday's suicide bombing.

In Columbus and nearby cities and towns, Marine officers in dress blues went from house to house Wednesday, notifying relatives of casualties.

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