Skip to comments.U.S. Forces on Offensive in Iraq Rebel Strongholds
Posted on 09/09/2004 11:37:08 AM PDT by NormsRevenge
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces launched operations in three Iraqi rebel strongholds on Thursday, killing nearly two dozen insurgents in a town near the Syrian border and bombing targets in Falluja for the third straight day.
Troops mounted a major offensive in Tal Afar, a suspected haven for foreign fighters about 60 miles east of the Syrian border in northern Iraq (news - web sites), and went into the tense town of Samarra north of Baghdad, as well as keeping up pressure on Falluja, west of the capital, through air strikes.
The fighting in Tal Afar killed 22 insurgents and wounded more than 70 people, a local government health official said.
"The situation is critical," Rabee Yassin, general manager for health in Nineveh province, told Reuters. "Ambulances and medical supplies cannot get to Tal Afar because of the ongoing military operations."
There were no immediate reports of any U.S. or Iraqi government casualties in the fighting which local government sources said had killed 57 since Saturday.
U.S. forces said the assault was in response to provocation after they and Iraqi security forces "were repeatedly attacked by a large terrorist element that has displaced local Iraqi security forces throughout recent weeks."
"These attacks by terrorist groups included rocket-propelled grenades, small arms fire, mortars and roadside bombs, and resulted in civilian casualties," the military said.
STRIKES IN FALLUJA
Further south, U.S. warplanes bombed rebel-held Falluja for a third successive night. The U.S. military said the assault was part of a "precision strike" on an operating base for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant Washington says is allied to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites)'s al Qaeda network.
"The target was a building frequently used by terrorists at the time of the strike. Three Zarqawi associates were reported to be in the area, no other individuals were present at the time of the strike," the statement said.
But doctors in Falluja said at least eight people were killed. Doctor Rafi Hayad said four of them were children and two women. Iraq's Health Ministry said at least 16 people had been killed in fighting in Falluja in the past 24 hours.
Reuters Television pictures showed several bloodied and heavily bandaged children being treated in a Falluja hospital.
The United States blames Zarqawi for masterminding a series of suicide bomb attacks and the killing of several hostages. It has offered a $25 million reward for his capture.
A statement posted on an Islamic Web Site and claiming to come from Zarqawi's group said four of his militants had been killed in the U.S. bombardment of Falluja earlier this week.
The past few days have seen a surge in attacks and clashes in Iraq that pushed the official Pentagon (news - web sites) U.S. death toll for the war to above 1,000. The Pentagon has admitted that U.S. and Iraqi forces are not in control of strongholds of the insurgency like Falluja, Ramadi and Samarra.
U.S. forces entered Samarra on Thursday for the first time in weeks to try to reestablish Iraqi government control there.
A military statement said the troops went in to install a temporary mayor and police chief, set up a local council and assess police stations. There were no reports of clashes.
NO WORD ON HOSTAGES
Besides trying to contain the insurgency, Iraq's government is also grappling with a hostage crisis.
In one of the most brazen abductions so far, two Italian women aid workers and two Iraqi colleagues were snatched from their office in central Baghdad in broad daylight on Tuesday. No word has yet emerged from their captors.
Since April, people from more than two dozen countries have been kidnapped as guerrillas have tried to force foreign troops and firms to leave. More than 20 foreign hostages have been killed, including two Italians.
The latest kidnappings have piled more pressure on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Most Italian voters strongly oppose Italy's role in Iraq, where it has sent 2,700 soldiers.
The abductions are likely to fuel uncertainty over the fate of two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who have been held since Aug. 20 despite intense diplomatic efforts to free them.
The seizure of the aid workers is also likely to trigger an exodus of the 50 or so remaining foreign humanitarian workers in Iraq.
Iraqi Police cadets listen to Mike Guyer, a former SWAT (Special weapons and Tactics) officer, give instructions during training in a U.S. forward base near Tikrit September 9, 2004. U.S. and Iraqi forces clashed with suspected foreign militants close to Iraq (news - web sites)'s border with Syria on Thursday, leaving nearly two dozen rebels dead, while U.S. war planes struck west of Baghdad for a third straight day. REUTERS/Aladin Abdel Naby
An Iraqi boy weeps as people survey the damage following an air strike in Fallujah. At least 40 people were killed when US-led forces spearheaded overnight assaults on Iraq (news - web sites)'s northern trouble spot of Tall Afar and the notorious insurgent bastion of Fallujah, officials said.(AFP/Fares Dlimi)
An Iraqi soldier guards the road near radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's office in Najaf, Iraq (news - web sites), Thursday Sept. 9, 2004. Iraqi security forces searched al-Sadr's office in Najaf looking for weapons on Thursday. (AP Photo/Alaa al-Murjani)
Is he weeping or just blowing his nose in his hands?