U.S. Pounds Iraqi Insurgents

U.S. troops stepped up their campaign against Iraqi insurgents, killing seven people preparing to rocket an American base near Tikrit and dropping satellite-guided bombs on a rebel target near the Syrian border, the military said Friday.

A leading Shiite cleric, meanwhile, warned the Americans that attempting a military solution to Iraq's crisis "will only make things worse." Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi also criticized the U.S.-led coalition of failing to restore democracy seven months after the collapse of Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, Iraq's growing lawlessness claimed more victims. Two 4th Infantry Division soldiers were killed Thursday and three others were wounded when their convoy was attacked with a roadside bomb near Samara, the military said Friday.

An American civilian contractor was killed and another injured when gunmen attacked a convoy Thursday near Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, the military said. The victims were not identified pending notification of relatives.

In the south, gunmen Friday fired on jeeps carrying Portuguese journalists, wounding one reporter and kidnapping another, Portuguese media reported. It was the first abduction of a journalist since the occupation began in May.

In other developments:

  • U.S. intelligence has identified the man behind both the rocket attack on the Baghdad hotel where Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was staying and the downing of a Chinook helicopter in which 16 Americans were killed. He is Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, former Baath party boss in Karbala. Muhammad and Lt. Gen. Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, former vice chairman of Saddam's Revolutionary Command Council, have emerged as two of the suspected ring leaders of the resistance, reports CBS News Correspondent David Martin.
  • The top U.S. general in the region, Gen. John Abizaid, estimates that insurgent fighters in Iraq total no more than 5,000, and says the largest and most dangerous groups are Saddam loyalists. The most significant, The Return Party, is composed primarily of members of Saddam's Baath Party.
  • The U.S. may begin transferring power back to the Iraqi people soon, but American peacekeeping troops will remain in Iraq for some time, President Bush said Friday."We will stay there until the job is done and then we will leave. … And the job is for Iraq to be free and peaceful," Mr. Bush said.
  • South Korea has ordered its troops in southern Iraq to suspend their operations outside coalition bases following Wednesday's deadly suicide truck bombing in Nasiriyah, officials said. South Korea earlier aid it will not send more than 3,000 troops to Iraq, rebuffing Washington's request for a bigger deployment.
  • In other setbacks to U.S. efforts to broaden the force in Iraq, Denmark rejected a push to bolster its 410-member force in the wake of the bombing, and Japan has said that it will almost certainly delay sending a group of non-combat troops to post-war Iraq until sometime next year.

    The seven Iraqi insurgents died Thursday night when a U.S. Apache helicopter fired on suspected Saddam supporters preparing to rocket an American military base 20 miles north of Tikrit, the 4th Infantry Division said. U.S. soldiers later found hundreds of rockets and missiles there.

    Along the Syrian border, U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets dropped two satellite-guided bombs Thursday night on a three-story building in Husayba used by insurgents to store ammunition and launch attacks, the 82nd Airborne Division said. U.S. officials have long accused Syria and Iran of allowing fighters to cross the border for attacks on the coalition.

    Three 82nd Airborne paratroopers were wounded Thursday night in a rocket attack near Fallujah, the division said. Three soldiers were injured Friday when a bomb they were trying to defuse exploded in northwestern Baghdad, according to witnesses.

    In the north, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division captured 14 "suspected terrorists," including eight who belonged to a cell whose leader plotted to kill a top coalition official, the military said.

    Faced with a mounting security crisis, the U.S. military this week announced a tough, new policy of going after the insurgents with massive firepower before they have a chance to strike.

    However, Ayatollah al-Modaresi warned that "the military solution will make the crisis worse," presumably by alienating large sections of the Iraqi population. Instead, the ayatollah, in a statement released by his office, called for more democracy in Iraq.

    He criticized the Americans and their allies for failing to live up to their promises to build a democratic Iraq over the wreckage of Saddam's dictatorial regime.

    Chief U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer III returned Thursday from talks with Mr. Bush and senior national security advisers and will present U.S. policy changes to the Iraqi Governing Council, the country's interim leadership, possibly as early as Saturday.

    The Bush administration is proposing elections in the first half of next year and formation of a government before a constitution is written, a senior U.S. official said in Washington. In the past, the administration insisted that Iraqi leaders write a constitution and hold elections before the occupying power begins shifting power to Iraqis.

    On Friday, one council member said the group will study the U.S. proposals but may not agree with the details. "For our part, we have our own ideas," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish member. "We will listen to Bremer and he will listen to us."

    Winning speedy agreement on a new political course may take time because of conflicting interests among Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups.