Mortar attack in Samarra kills five U.S. soldiers
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Insurgents firing mortar rounds destroyed a headquarters used by U.S. and Iraqi forces in the city of Samarra on Thursday, killing five American soldiers and one Iraqi guardsman, the military said.
The attack, part of a day of violence and street battles in the city, also wounded 20 U.S. soldiers and four Iraqi guardsmen, said Maj. Neal O’Brien, the spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.
Three civilians also were killed, medical officials said, and U.S. helicopters killed four insurgents, O’Brien said.
Also Thursday, the Philippines barred its contract workers from traveling to Iraq after militants released a videotape threatening to kill a Filipino hostage if the country does not withdraw its troops.
The U.S. and Iraqi troops were killed when insurgents launched 38 mortar rounds about 10:30 a.m. and destroyed the headquarters building in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad in the so-called Sunni Triangle, a hotbed of resistance to the coalition.
Some of the rounds landed in civilian areas, the military said. Dr. Abid Tawfiq, director of the Samarra General Hospital, said three civilians were killed in the violence and 20 others were injured.
About 25 minutes later, when radar determined the source of the shelling, U.S. soldiers responded with four mortar rounds.
U.S. and Iraqi troops fanned out through the city and were fired on by four men who fled into a building, O’Brien said. U.S. helicopters attacked the building with Hellfire missiles, killing the attackers, he said.
U.S. troops secured the area around the collapsed building, and three tanks blocked a bridge that linked the base with the city. Witnesses said fighter jets took part.
Before the mortar attack, a U.S. military convoy in Samarra was targeted by a roadside bomb that wounded a U.S. soldier, O’Brien said.
Insurgents have long launched mortar and rocket attacks on U.S. bases, most of which cause no significant damage or casualties. Last month, a rocket slammed into a U.S. logistics base near the city of Balad, killing three U.S. soldiers and wounding 25 people, the military said.
In Baghdad, meanwhile, an explosion ripped through a car outside a textile factory in the Dora neighborhood, killing a former senior Baath Party official, said police Lt. Anmar Yassin. Authorities didn’t know the cause of the explosion that killed Ali Abbas Hassan.
Thursday’s violence came a day after Iraq unveiled emergency laws giving the government broad powers to fight its enduring insurgency.
The U.S. military, which makes up the bulk of the nearly 160,000 foreign troops, has been gradually handing over security responsibilities to Iraqi security forces, which are ill-equipped and ill-trained to handle such duties alone.
The Philippines, with only 51 troops in Iraq, make up a tiny fraction of the Multinational Force. But the more than 4,000 Filipino civilians work as contractors for the U.S. military, serving food, cleaning toilets and forming the backbone of the support staff for U.S. troops.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Thursday ordered Filipino contract workers not to travel to Iraq, but made no immediate decision on a demand by militants that she withdraw troops within three days or they would kill a Filipino they had taken hostage.
The Filipino was shown on a video broadcast Wednesday by Al-Jazeera. Three armed and masked men – calling themselves the Iraqi Islamic Army-Khaled bin al-Waleed Corps – stood behind the seated hostage. It did not give any details of his capture, but the group claimed to have killed an Iraqi guarding him.
The small military contingent’s deployment was scheduled to end later this month, and Manila has been considering whether to extend their tour of duty.
Arroyo “ordered an immediate stop to the deployment of new workers going to Iraq,” her spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, told The Associated Press. “And then she is asking for an assessment from our Middle East team.”
The president also offered government help for any workers who wanted to come home.
Those decisions could have far more impact on the multinational force here.
The roughly 4,100 civilian contractors – drawn by relatively high pay – take care of virtually every essential low-level job on many U.S. bases, preparing meals and maintaining the vast fields of air conditioned portable buildings that most soldiers call home.
In addition, many with specialized training provide security at important facilities, construct buildings and furniture, and maintain roads. The U.S. military, which has diverted as many soldiers to combat duty as possible, would be hard pressed to operate in Iraq without the extra manpower the Filipinos provide.
The video did not identify the hostage, who wore a bright orange jumpsuit similar to one worn by American Nick Berg when he was beheaded by Iraqi militants led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The Philippine charge d’affaires in Baghdad, Ricardo Endaya, confirmed the hostage was a Filipino abducted near Fallujah. ABS-CBN TV, quoting the Philippine ambassador in Qatar, identified him as Angelo dela Cruz, a truck driver who crossed into Iraq from Saudi Arabia.
With a Muslim extremist threat of its own, the Philippines has been among the biggest supporters of the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
The security laws unveiled Wednesday allow Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to set curfews, impose limited martial law, send security forces on searches and freeze suspects’ assets and monitor their communications. He can also assign military leaders to run restive areas.
“Present conditions in Iraq have reached a stage that is impossible to tolerate,” Justice Minister Malik Dohan al-Hassan said.
Government officials insisted that built-in checks will protect Iraqis’ rights and prevent a dictatorship.
Allawi, a secular Shiite with close CIA links, can only invoke his new powers with the unanimous approval of the Presidential Council made up of the president, who is a Sunni Arab, and two vice presidents, a Kurd and a Shiite.
The laws are the first major step by Allawi’s government to make good on its promise to end the violence that has killed hundreds of Iraqis in the past 15 months.
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld backed the new laws. “In terms of if they will be more effective, I would think so,” he said, but he would not say if U.S. troops would help enforce them.
Senior Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said emergency powers by themselves would not solve security woes.
“Force alone does not solve security problems,” he said. “Efforts must be made to achieve national reconciliation and grant amnesty to those who fought the occupiers,” he said from London. Allawi’s government is considering such an amnesty.