U.S. jets bomb suspected militant hide-out in Fallujah
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – U.S. warplanes pounded a suspected hide-out of al-Qaida-linked militants in the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Fallujah on Monday, killing at least 20 people and wounding 29, officials and witnesses said. Seven of the victims died when a shell hit an ambulance, a hospital official said.
The strike came a day after a surge in violence killed 78 people and wounded about 200 across Iraq as insurgents hammered central Baghdad with intense mortar and rocket barrages and violence appeared to spiral out of control.
The U.S. military said jets carried out a precision strike on a site in Fallujah where several members of a group led by Jordanian-born terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were meeting.
“Intelligence sources reported the presence of several key al-Zarqawi operatives who have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and multinational forces,” the military said in a statement.
The military said reports indicated the strikes had achieved their aim, but did not name the operatives.
In Fallujah, witnesses said the bombing targeted the city’s residential al-Shurta neighborhood, damaging buildings and raising clouds of black smoke.
Dr. Ahmad Taher of the Fallujah General Hospital said at least 20 people were killed, including women and children, and 29 others wounded. An ambulance rushing from the area of the blasts was hit by a shell, killing the driver, a paramedic and five patients inside the vehicle, said another hospital official, Hamid Salaman.
“The conditions here are miserable – an ambulance was bombed, three houses destroyed and men and women killed,” the hospital’s director, Rafayi Hayad al-Esawi, told Al-Jazeera television by telephone. “The American army has no morals.”
Witnesses said U.S. warplanes repeatedly swooped low over Fallujah and that artillery units deployed on the outskirts of the city also opened fire. The explosions started at sunrise and continued for several hours.
One explosion went off in a marketplace in Fallujah as the first sellers had just begun to set up their stalls, wounding several people and shattering windows, witnesses said.
U.S. forces pulled out of Fallujah in April after ending a three-week siege that left hundreds dead and a trail of devastation. The U.S. Marines have not patrolled inside Fallujah since then and Sunni insurgents have strengthened their hold on the city.
On Monday, a videotape purporting to show the beheading of a Turkish driver kidnapped last month in Iraq surfaced on the Web site of an al-Qaida-linked militant group led by al-Zarqawi. On the video, which could not immediately be verified, the victim says he was transporting goods to an American military base in Mosul.
Explosions rocked central Baghdad on Monday, but the location or nature of the blasts was not immediately clear.
South of Baghdad, assailants broke into a local police station in Latifiyah and forced the handful of officers inside to leave before blowing up the building, police said Monday. Nobody was injured in the Sunday night blast, said police Lt. Col. Sahi Abdullah. Iraqi police have regularly been attacked by insurgents who view them as collaborators with American troops.
In a visit to the southern city of Basra, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi vowed to pursue insurgents.
“We are adamant that we are going to defeat terrorism,” Allawi said. “We intend to confront them and bring them to justice.”
Iraq’s interim president vowed Monday that the country’s leaders will ensure elections scheduled for January take place as planned, despite persistent violence.
“By God, we intend to meet this date,” Ghazi al-Yawer said during a visit to Warsaw, Poland, adding that the interim government was “working around the clock” to establish the security and government control needed for elections to be held.
The violence on Sunday left at least 37 people dead in Baghdad alone. Many of them were killed when a U.S. helicopter fired on a disabled U.S. Bradley fighting vehicle as Iraqis swarmed around it, cheering, throwing stones and waving the black and yellow sunburst banner of Iraq’s most-feared terror organization.
The dead from the helicopter strike included Arab television reporter Mazen al-Tumeizi. An Iraqi cameraman working for the Reuters news agency and an Iraqi freelance photographer for Getty Images were wounded.
About 30 journalists on Monday demonstrated in the West Bank town of Ramallah to protest the death of al-Tumeizi, a Palestinian.
Naim Tubasi, chief of the Palestinian journalists’ union, accused the United States of deliberately killing reporters in Iraq to “block the truth” from reaching the rest of the world.
“The killing of Mazen al-Tumeizi is one more American crime in Iraq,” he said, calling for an international investigation of American crimes against journalists in Iraq.
Secretary of State Colin Powell acknowledged that the U.S.-led coalition faced a “difficult time” in Iraq but said the United States had a plan to quash the insurgency and bring those areas under control in time for national elections in January.
The insurgency “will be brought under control,” Powell said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “It’s not an impossible task.”
In other developments:
– The governor of the northern Kurdish province of Dahuk escaped an assassination attempt when a roadside bomb went off as his car was passing by, police said. There were no injuries. It was the first such attack in the largely peaceful city of Dahuk and surrounding province that bears the same name since the U.S. invasion in Iraq began in March last year.
– A government official said that Minister of State Qassim Dawoud would become an adviser to the prime minister for national security. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Cabinet shifted Dawoud’s responsibility from minister of state for military affairs to minister of state for national security and an adviser to Allawi.