Friday, July 04, 2003
U.S. Troops Kill 11 Iraqi Ambushers
By JAMIE TARABAY
.c The Associated Press
BALAD, Iraq (AP) - U.S. troops killed 11 Iraqis who ambushed a convoy outside Baghdad on Friday, one of the heaviest clashes yet in the daily grind of attacks on American forces, and a message purportedly from Saddam Hussein called for stepped-up resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.
The ambush came hours after mortars hit a nearby base, wounding 18 U.S. soldiers, and a sniper shot and killed an American soldier guarding the Baghdad museum, the military said.
The Arab television station Al-Jazeera aired an audiotape Friday with a voice purported to be that of Saddam. In the tape, the speaker said he was directing resistance to American forces and called on all Iraqis to support the attacks.
``Not a day passes without them (suffering) losses in our great land thanks to our great mujahedeen (holy warriors),'' the speaker on the tape said. ``The coming days will, God willing, be days of hardship and trouble for the infidel invaders.''
The United States has put a $25 million bounty on Saddam's head, and U.S. officials say that the mystery over his whereabouts is encouraging anti-U.S. attacks - though they insist the resistance is not centrally organized.
The speaker on the tape - purportedly Saddam - said he was in Iraq and gave the date as June 14. There was no immediate way to confirm the tape's authenticity but those who know Saddam's voice said it sounded like his.
The insurgency has raised fears of a political and military quagmire just two months after President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1. At least 27 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile fire since Bush's statement.
The ambush Friday came on a highway near Balad, 55 miles north of Baghdad, when 11 men attacked a convoy with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire, the military said.
Soldiers of the Army's 4th Infantry Division fired back, killing all the men. None of the Americans was injured.
U.S. forces have frequently been ambushed on the roads of central Iraq - usually by small groups of insurgents who fire small arms or grenades then flee.
In another bold attack, four mortar rounds rocked a huge U.S. base near Balad late Thursday, injuring 18 soldiers, said Maj. Edward Bryja, of the Army's 3rd Corps Support Command. Flares and tracer bullets sliced across the night sky after the blasts.
Two soldiers were seriously injured, with one undergoing surgery in a hospital located on the base and another evacuated for treatment, Bryja said. Others suffered cuts and small punctures from flying shrapnel, and nine soldiers quickly went back to duty, Army officials said.
``This is the first time the base was attacked - and the first time we've seen mortars,'' said Sgt. Grant Calease, who said he and other soldiers would nonetheless carry on with a July 4th steak barbecue.
The wounded soldiers belonged to Task Force Iron Horse, a 33,000-member unit that has been conducting raids in mainly Sunni Muslim central Iraq - the latest sweep aimed at putting down insurgents.
On Friday, attackers detonated an explosive on a highway in Baghdad's western outskirts, injuring three passengers in a civilian car and two U.S. soldiers traveling in a Humvee convoy, according to an Associated Press photographer on the scene.
On Thursday evening, a sniper shot and killed a U.S. soldier manning the gunner's hatch of a Bradley fighting vehicle outside the national museum, Pruden said. His name was not immediately available.
Despite the attacks, many of the U.S. troops planned July 4th barbecues at bases around the country.
``We should be celebrating with our families. It is sad. Everybody wants to go home. I am glad that we came here to liberate Iraq, but I think it is time for soldiers to see their families,'' said Sgt. Thas Eagans from Irving, Texas.
A few were invited to join Arnold Schwarzenegger for a screening at Baghdad International Airport of the muscle-bound actor's latest movie, ``Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.''
Schwarzenegger addressed a rambunctious crowd of soldiers in one of Saddam Hussein's former presidential palaces located inside the airport compound.
``It is really wild driving around here, I mean the poverty, and you see there is no money, it is disastrous financially and there is the leadership vacuum, pretty much like in California right now,'' he said.
Schwarzenegger, 55, has indicated he may run for governor of Californian as a Republican if residents there vote to recall the Gov. Gray Davis.
``I play terminator, but you guys are the true terminators,'' he told the soldiers, before heading to the base at Balad that came under attack.
In the north, American forces planned joint celebrations with Kurdish officials. The Kurds celebrate July 4 as the anniversary of their first government's election in 1992.
U.S. officials have said the insurgency is being fueled by doubts about Saddam's fate and crushing it is crucial.
The American sweep, dubbed Sidewinder, has netted at least 20 ``high-value'' targets, but none of the most wanted Iraqi fugitives. Arms and ammunition, including hundreds of rocket propelled grenades, or RPGs, have also been seized.
On Thursday, U.S. troops near Baqubah, northeast of the capital, tried to lure attackers into an ambush on a stretch of road known as ``RPG Alley'' because of the frequent attacks on U.S. forces there. One suspect was killed and three captured in the operation, said Lt. Kurt Chapman, with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
The last reported sighting of Saddam was on April 9, a day before the capital fell, in northeast Baghdad. He was the target of at least two major U.S. air strikes, but there was never any proof either was successful.