Air Power Vs. Baghdad Fighters

A bomb blast wounded two U.S. soldiers Tuesday in the northern city of Mosul while U.S. aircraft and tanks blasted trees and abandoned buildings along a road north of Baghdad to deny insurgents cover for rocket attacks.

The U.S. military has reacted forcefully following an upsurge in guerrilla activity in central and northern Iraq. On Monday, six insurgents were killed in gunbattles and 99 suspects were reportedly detained in a series of sweeps.

In a blow to Iraq's U.S.-led administration, officials on Monday announced the resignation of an Italian coalition official, who accused the occupation authorities of incompetence.

"The provisional authority simply doesn't work," the Italian daily Corriere della Sera quoted Marco Calamai, a special counselor of the Coalition Provisional Authority, as saying. "It's neither fish nor fowl. Reconstruction projects that were promised and financed have had practically no results."

There was no immediate comment from the staff of authority chief, L. Paul Bremer.

In other developments:

  • An Iraqi militant group called Muhammad's Army claimed responsibility for the downing of a U.S. helicopter on Nov. 2 that killed 16 soldiers. The group warned that U.S. forces would face more attacks if they did not leave Iraq in 15 days. There was no way to independently verify the claims.
  • A Pentagon memo details active cooperation between Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network and Saddam Hussein's regime from the early 1990s to as late as 2003. Senate Intelligence Committee leaders plan to ask the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the top-secret memo.
  • President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo said Tuesday the Philippines would consider withdrawing its 96 troops from Iraq if the security situation there worsens. But Foreign Secretary Blas Ople said there are no plans to pull the contingent out now, despite a rise in terror attacks on coalition forces.
  • A U.S. military court opened a hearing Tuesday into allegations that an American lieutenant colonel manhandled and threatened to kill an Iraqi detainee, allegedly firing his gun near the man to get information on an alleged plot to kill him.
  • Tens of thousands of people gathered at a Roman basilica Tuesday to pay their final respects to 19 Italians killed in a truck bombing in Iraq and the entire nation observed a day of mourning — a unified outpouring of grief in a country deeply divided over the Iraq war.
  • Despite plans for massive anti-war protests during President Bush's visit to London this week, an ICM poll published in the Guardian newspaper suggest more Britons support the visit than don't, few think America is dangerous, and support for the Iraq war is rising.

    In Washington, Mr. Bush said Monday the United States will not pull out of Iraq when a provisional government is established by July 1.

    Mr. Bush made the promise in a meeting with Iraqi women who told the president of the hardships they had suffered under Saddam. "I assured these five women that America wasn't leaving," Mr. Bush said in the Oval Office.

    In Mosul, two soldiers on a foot patrol were wounded when a bomb exploded near them on Tuesday in the early morning, the military said.

    Near Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, U.S. jets and Apache helicopter gunships blasted abandoned buildings, walls and tree along a road where attacks have been so common that troops nicknamed it "RPG Alley" after the rocket-propelled grenades used by insurgents.

    Fighter-bombers dropped two 500-pound bombs and battle tanks fired their 120mm guns at suspected ambush sites.

    In Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, U.S. forces on Monday killed six alleged insurgents as they pressed their search for a former Saddam deputy believed to be orchestrating the attacks.

    They continued attacking suspected insurgent positions late Monday with mortar and tank fire, U.S. military officials said. Sporadic explosions could be heard reverberating across Tikrit overnight but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

    "Clearly, we're sending the message that we do have the ability to run operations across a wide area," said U.S. Lt. Col. William MacDonald. "We have overwhelming combat power that we will utilize in order to go after groups and individuals who have been conducting anti-coalition activities."

    Despite the administration's efforts to repair the country's infrastructure, Iraqis frequently complain about the slow pace of reconstruction seven months after the war that deposed Saddam's regime.

    Coalition authorities have frequently pointed to the gradual restoration of power supplies in the aftermath of the war as a benchmark of their success in rebuilding Iraq.

    But those efforts suffered a major setback when the grid supplying the capital from powerplants in the north collapsed on Saturday.

    As a result, much of Baghdad has been left with only brief, 10-15 minute periods of electricity during the last three days.

    U.S. administrators said the outages were a result of maintenance work on the national grid. But Iraqi government officials said they were caused by the collapse of steel pylons carrying high-tension lines after heavy rains and high winds in the north of the country.

    "We cannot cook, there is no water, and it is very cold without heating at night," said Leyla Najim, a librarian working in central Baghdad. "The children cannot do their homework in the dark."

    As of Monday, Nov. 17, 419 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq. On or since May 1, when Mr. Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 281 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq. Allied countries have suffered 73 deaths.