U.S. Iraq Strategy Surfacing

Caption A U.S. soldier stands guard in front of the interior ministry office in Baghdad Saturday, June 14, 2003. Sign in Arabic means interior ministry.
A battle between tanks and guerrillas north of Baghdad shows the strategy U.S. forces are trying to use in their fight against pro-Saddam holdouts: draw opponents into the open, then pound them with helicopters and armor.

Assailants attacked a U.S. tank patrol on the outskirts of Balad, a rural area 30 miles north of Baghdad on Thursday. There were conflicting reports on casualties, with Central Command saying U.S. forces killed 27 insurgents but officers at the scene putting the number much lower, perhaps five or seven.

The figure of 27 would put the number of opposition fighters killed in all this week at about 100. It was the biggest American operation since the war ended two months ago.

Villagers claimed Saturday that five of the dead were civilians, including a 70-year-old man, apparently mistaken by U.S. troops for militants fleeing after attacking the tank patrol. Townspeople say the five men were trying to douse fires in their wheat fields set by U-S flares. U.S. commanders aren't commenting.

CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips says, "Already the stories have been circulating -- whether true or not -- that American troops have, to use the local phrase, been 'trrorizing'populations here (in Iraq) not necessarily hostile before. It's an old question: Does heavy-handed military action put down resistance, or create more?"

In other developments:

  • A U.S. deadline for Iraqis to turn in weapons hoarded in their homes expires Saturday. Despite a lethal array of arms handed in so far - 152 anti-tank rocket launchers, 11 anti-aircraft weapons and hundreds of assault rifles and handguns - it was believed to be only a fraction of the weaponry remaining in Baghdad's streets.
  • An Iraqi detainee has been killed and seven others wounded in a foiled escape attempt at a prison complex west of Baghdad. The military says two of the injured are in serious condition. One military policeman was lightly injured.
  • U.S. forces came under two separate grenade attacks in the northern city of Mosul on Friday, though no casualties were reported, said Lt. Col. Julian, the U.S. military spokesman. In the first incident, unknown assailants hurled grenades at a joint coalition-Iraqi police patrol. In the second, grenades were thrown at a foot patrol of U.S. forces, Julian said.
  • The Washington Post reports in its Saturday editions that there are doubts whether a camp attacked by U.S. aircraft and ground forces Thursday was really a "training camp" for anti-American fighters, as U.S. authorities said. "There were no signs of firing ranges or other facilities that suggested military training," the Post says. "Residents of Rawah, three miles south of the camp, said the fighters had pitched their tents just three days before." The military says 70 of the insurgents were killed in the attack, and one American soldier wounded.
  • Since the beginning of May, 49 American soldiers have died in Iraq, according to the U.S. Central Command.
  • The Los Angeles Times reports in its Saturday editions that The CIA has reassigned two senior officials who oversaw its analysis on Iraq and the deposed regime's alleged banned weapons, a move that a CIA spokesman said was routine but that others portrayed as an "exile."
  • A senior intelligence official says the C-I-A shared with other U-S agencies its doubts about pre-war reports that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. The C-I-A passed the information along anyway, and the reports made it into President Bush's State of the Union address. They were later proven false.
  • 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." Powell says Iraqi nuclear scientists could hold the key to proving the information is accurate.
  • Pfc. Jessica Lynch's unit didn't take a wrong turn before being ambushed, as was widely reported, but was sent in the wrong direction by fellow American troops at a checkpoint. That's the word from Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat from El Paso, Texas, home of Ft. Bliss, where the unit is based. He was briefed Friday by the Pentagon.

    The tank ambush at Balad appeared to be part of a growing campaign of
    violent resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Fighting intensified this week to its highest pitch since the war was declared over May 1 and was likely to escalate as U.S. forces press their crackdown on anti-American forces.

    The operation, concentrated in areas north and west of Baghdad, targets what Central Command described as "Baath Party loyalists, paramilitary groups and other subversive elements."

    Hundreds of people have been detained for interrogation in the sweep, which has triggered widespread anger among Iraqi townspeople over the heavy-handed tactics of American soldiers. By Saturday, all but a few of the detainees had been released.

    The ambush at Balad started just before midnight Thursday, when a large force of insurgents detonated a land mine and fired rockets on a two-tank patrol of the 4th Infantry Division, said Lt. Col. Andy Fowler, a senior officer engaged in the chase.

    The tanks returned fire, killing four assailants, U.S. Central Command said. The patrol called in reinforcements, including Apache helicopters, and gave chase to the fleeing attackers.

    Fowler said the pursuit lasted through the night and into daylight Friday. Some attackers fled through sunflower fields and ducked into sand-brick houses.

    But experts said the assault showed emerging American military straegy. American troops, hunkered inside thick armor and equipped with computer-guided weapons, run obtrusive patrols, hoping to taunt insurgents into action and lure them into the open where they would be overwhelmed by the superior U.S. weaponry.

    "We will maintain that pressure, causing him to react to us, rather than vice versa," said Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, U.S. ground forces commander in Iraq. "Are there bad guys still out there? Absolutely. Are we going after them? Absolutely."

    For weeks, American forces have been the targets of hit-and-run attacks, usually by individuals or small groups throwing grenades, or firing rockets or small arms, then fleeing. The tank ambush was unusual in the number of assailants and the coordination of the attack.