U.S. Forces Inflict Heavy Toll

2003/6/6 #824157: US Army convoy with "Have a nice day sign" passes through Ramadi, Iraq, photo
American forces cracking down on Iraqi fighters have killed nearly 100 and captured dozens in two days of fighting.

U.S. soldiers killed 27 Iraqi fighters in a ground and air pursuit Friday after the Iraqis attacked an American tank patrol north of Baghdad, the military said.

Troops acting on an intelligence tip arrested 74 people described as sympathizers of the al Qaeda terrorist network in a raid Thursday near the northern city of Kirkuk. And a Pentagon official says about 70 opposition fighters were killed in a raid Thursday on an alleged terrorist training camp northwest of Baghdad.

The attack on the tank column was the latest in increasing resistance to the American-led occupation of Iraq since the war was declared over on May 1.

Since then, about 40 Americans have been killed in ambushes and by sniper fire, mainly in the central area of Iraq where ousted President Saddam Hussein drew most of his support.

In other developments:

  • Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has threatened to hold up funding for a new NATO command center in Belgium because laws there have allowed a war crimes case against American war commander Gen. Tommy Franks. The case has been transferred to U.S. courts.
  • Two Iraqi prisoners were shot trying to escape from a camp Thursday. One of the men later died of his wounds and the other was recaptured, Central Command said. The United States is holding more than 2,000 Iraqis, including more than half of the 55 Iraqi most-wanted by Washington.
  • Halliburton's contract to restart Iraq's oil production has doubled in cost over the past month to $194.7 million, and the no-bid work may last longer than expected, the Army says.
  • Turkey's foreign minister is calling two explosions that tore through an oil pipeline in northern Iraq sabotage. He says there is an investigation about the magnitude. A U.S. Army spokesman says the explosions Thursday night appear to be similar to previous accidents.
  • Secretary of State Colin Powell says the intelligence around which the United States built its arguments for war in Iraq "isn't a figment of somebody's imagination," and Iraqi nuclear scientists could hold the key to proving the information is accurate.

    The attack on the American tank patrol came as a massive U.S. campaign to crush resistance by supporters of the ousted Iraqi regime entered its fourth day.

    U.S. Central Command said an "organized group" ambushed the tanks in Balad, about 35 miles from the capital on the main highway north. The statement made no mention of U.S. casualties.

    The patrol returned fire and killed four of the assailants in the initial gunbattle, the military said.

    When the rest of the attackers fled, Apache helicopters joined the chase along with tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles, killing 23 more assailants. The statement did not say whether any escaped.

    On Thursday, American warplanes bombed an alleged "terrorist training facility" 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, looking for members of the now-banned Baath Party, Iraqi paramilitary groups and "other subversive elements," said a military statement.

    A fierce ground battle followed the air strike in which the Iraqi forces suffered heavy casualties. One American soldier was wounded, said Central Command.

    "It was a tough fight. They were well-trained or well-equipped, and clearly well prepared for this, for the fight they had," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers said at a Washington briefing on Thursday.

    Also on Thursday, Iraqi fighters shot down an Apache helicopter gunship — the first American aircraft downed by ground fire since Saddam's ouster two months ago — and a U.S. F-16 fighter-bomber crashed Thursday. The crews of the aircraft were rescued unharmed.

    Six U.S. soldiers have been wounded in the past 24 hours in fighting in all of Iraq, said Capt. John Morgan, spokesman in Baghdad for the Army's V Corps.

    Earlier this week, U.S. forces launched a sweep through towns of the so-called "Sunni triangle" north of and west of Baghdad in central Iraq and marked at its top by Tikrit, Saddam's hometown.

    Coalition forces did not give a total of Iraqi casualties in the operation, but said about 400 Iraqis have been arrested and many were being interrogated. No Americans have been killed, said Sgt. Forest Geary of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

    Hundreds of U.S. troops moved in hard and fast through the area, centered on the town of Duluiyah 30 miles north of Baghdad. With helicopters whirring overhead and tanks offering cover, they kicked down doors and pulled out residents, looking for snipers who had harassed them for weeks from the shelter of thick woods.

    The aggressive raids angered people in Duluiyah, who complained of needlessly heavy-handed tactics by the Americans. One man said his 6-year-old son was handcuffed.

    Meanwhile, the commander of American ground troops in Iraq says captured Iraqis have given U.S. interrogators information about possible chemical and biological weapons sites. Lieutenant General David McKiernan says he's confident there are biological and chemical weapons still hidden in Iraq.

    However, a covert U.S. Army team that has hunted weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since before the ground war began has met with failure like other search groups, The Washington Post reports. Initial reports from Task Force 20 that a discovery appeared imminent may have fueled White House optimism that weapons would be found.

    Separately, a senior intelligence official says the CIA had expressed doubts that Iraq sought uranium from the African country of Niger. The allegations made it into President Bush's State of the Union address anyway.