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Suicide Bombing Kills U.S. Troops
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Peter Baker KUWAIT CITY, March 29 (Saturday) -=
- A suicide bomber driving a taxi filled with explosives killed five U.S. s=
oldiers today at a highway checkpoint in central Iraq, military spokesmen s=
aid, the first such attack on American troops in war in which Iraqi forces =
have been accused of dressing as civilians and employing so-called human sh=
The incident occurred near the city of Najaf, about 80 miles south of Bagh=
dad, according to spokesmen quoted by news services. Capt. Andrew Wallace t=
old the Associated Press that members of the 1st Brigade of the U.S. Army's=
3rd Infantry Division were manning a checkpoint north of the city when a t=
axi stopped nearby and its driver waved for help. When five U.S. soldiers a=
pproached the car, it exploded, Wallace said.
It was the first successful suicide bombing reported by U.S. forces during=
the 10-day-old war. An earlier suicide attack on a military convoy failed =
when a vehicle laden with explosives rammed a fuel truck in central Iraq bu=
t failed to explode. Four civilians, including an Australian journalist, we=
re killed by a car bomb last Saturday in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq.=
The attack underscored the dangers facing U.S. Army and Marine units as th=
ey continued to fight pitched battles with Iraqi soldiers and paramilitary =
forces across southern Iraq, where pockets of resistance threaten the long=
supply lines of the American troops massing south of Baghdad.=20
In the Iraqi capital, which was pounded by more cruise missiles and two ma=
ssive "bunker buster" bombs, a crowded market was devastated Friday by a po=
werful explosion that the government said killed 58 people. Iraqi officials=
said the market was gutted by one of the U.S. missiles as residents of the=
beleaguered city milled through the stalls on the evening of the Muslim Sa=
bbath. The U.S. pummeling also hit sites near the Information Ministry and=
Planning Ministry along with an office of President Saddam Hussein's Baath=
U.S. officials at Central Command regional headquarters in Doha, Qatar, s=
aid they are investigating the market blast but offered no explanation. In =
any case, news of the killings, quickly broadcast on Arabic-language televi=
sion networks, seemed likely to further complicate the Bush administration'=
s efforts to convince Iraqis and other Arabs that the nine-day-old assault =
on Hussein's government is intended to remove a threat to peace and improve=
Syria, a neighbor of Iraq that has strongly opposed the conflict, was acc=
used in Washington by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of providing nig=
ht-vision goggles and other military equipment to Hussein's embattled gover=
nment. "We consider such trafficking as hostile acts and will hold the Syri=
an government accountable," he said.=20
The Syrian Foreign Ministry in Damascus called the accusation unfounded an=
d described it as a way to cover up U.S. crimes against Iraqi civilians.
Here in Kuwait City, a thunderous explosion damaged a posh shopping cente=
r on the Persian Gulf shore early this morning. Officials said the blast ca=
me after a missile, apparently fired from Iraq, crashed into the sea wall. =
The missile did not carry chemical or biological agents, and no injuries we=
re immediately reported, Kuwaiti officials said.
Farther north along the Kuwaiti shore, a U.S. Marine unit landed Friday i=
n the first of a wave of reinforcements due to arrive in the region as U.S.=
military commanders focused on hunting down the paramilitary groups in sou=
thern and central Iraq. The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, comprising more=
than 2,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., will travel to Iraq to bolster=
forces guarding the supply columns bringing food, fuel, ammunition and oth=
er depleted goods to Army and Marine units massing on the southern approach=
es to Baghdad. .
In the day's most intense fighting, Marines exchanged tank and artillery =
fire with Iraqi soldiers and militiamen in and around Nasiriyah, a city of =
about 500,000 people on the Euphrates River and about a third of the distan=
ce between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad. U.S. defense officials said four=
Marines were missing after the battle, in addition to eight others who hav=
e not been seen since a gun battle in the area Sunday.
In all, Pentagon officials said, 37 U.S. soldiers and Marines have been k=
illed or gone missing in action, with about 100 wounded. The toll, however,=
has often lagged behind the fighting since the war began March 20.
Nasiriyah, with its two bridges over the Euphrates, is a vital link in th=
e U.S. supply chain, particularly for a Marine column moving toward Baghdad=
east of the river. Although Marines seized the bridges last weekend, U.S. =
supply convoys have been subjected to regular attacks from a paramilitary g=
roup called Saddam's Fedayeen, leading some Marines to dub the southern ent=
rances to the city "Ambush Alley."
U.S. commanders said they intend to concentrate on smashing Fedayeen unit=
s in the days ahead. Several officers privately called the effort a "pacifi=
cation" program, echoing Vietnam War efforts to target Communist guerrillas=
that had infiltrated villages.
"We're going to continue the attack throughout our area of operations wit=
h increased focus on these regime death squads," said Lt. Col. George Smith=
, a top war planner for the Marines, using the new Pentagon-crafted term fo=
r the Fedayeen. "We're going to find 'em. We're going to hunt 'em down. We'=
re going to kill 'em."
As the first step in that effort, Marines have attempted to gain control =
over areas of the city beyond the bridges and principal roadways. Over the =
past few days, Marines have engaged in sometimes fierce street fighting wit=
h militiamen clad in civilian clothes. Some military officials said the mil=
itiamen have been using civilians as shields.
Lt. Col. David Pere, senior watch officer at the Marine headquarters in s=
outhern Iraq, said the Marines swept through a series of row houses on Thur=
sday that had been used by snipers to fire on U.S. forces. Military officia=
ls also said U.S. Special Operations aircraft carried out raids in Nasiriya=
h on Thursday aimed at destroying a pair of buildings used by paramilitary =
Nevertheless, a convoy of about 200 Marine trucks and other vehicles trave=
ling north out of Nasiriyah came under fire from mortars and rocket-propell=
ed grenades on Friday. Commanders dispatched AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters,=
and teams of Marines from both north and south to rescue the convoy, which=
reported no U.S. casualties.
Although field commanders and journalists with units in Nasiriyah have re=
ported on some of the battles in the city, the Pentagon and the U.S. Centra=
l Command have not provided details about the fighting, including casualty =
figures, at news briefings.
Closer to Baghdad, most front-line Army and Marine units continued to hol=
d their positions to allow supply lines and reinforcements to catch up. Whi=
le the Army's 3rd Infantry Division consolidated about 50 miles south of Ba=
ghdad, near the city of Karbala, the Marines were concentrating their force=
s farther east on a road leading to Kut, a major city 100 miles southeast o=
The pause in forward movement allowed commanders to direct air power at t=
he Iraqi defensive units ahead of them and attack militia units along the s=
upply routes that stretch into central Iraq from the Kuwaiti border. In the=
first intense combat mission for the 101st Airborne Division, more than th=
ree dozen AH-64 Apache attack helicopters struck targets around the city of=
Karbala on Friday night, along with Navy, Marine, Air Force and British ai=
rcraft. U.S. officials believe elements of the Medina Division of Iraq's el=
ite Republican Guard have moved toward Karbala in recent days along with mo=
re paramilitary fighters.
A variety of Iraqi military vehicles , including four tanks, reportedly w=
ere destroyed, and two of the Apaches were damaged while landing at their b=
ase in central Iraq.
In the airstrikes on targets in and around Baghdad, U.S. warplanes and cr=
uise missiles pounded communications facilities, government buildings and t=
roop positions ringing the capital. Bone-jarring explosions rocked Baghdad =
and a towering cloud of orange smoke rose over the skyline after a break in=
intense sandstorms allowed pilots to resume bombing runs.
In addition to the telecommunications facilities, the Baath Party office =
and sites near the information and planning ministries, four telephone-comp=
any exchanges were gutted, disrupting phone service in the city.
In an attack that sent shock waves across the capital, a B-2 stealth bomb=
er dropped two 4,700-pound, satellite-guided "bunker buster" bombs on a maj=
or communications tower on the banks of the Tigris River. After nightfall, =
thundering explosions were seen near the Republican Presidential Palace com=
plex. And early this morning, the upper floors of the Information Ministry =
also were struck by a bomb or missile, sending small fireballs hurtling tow=
ard the street and leaving parts of the structure ablaze.
Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Sahhaf, said more than 4,000 =
Iraqis have been killed or wounded in bombings since the war began, many of=
them inside government buildings. "There are people in them," he said. "Th=
ere are civil servants, and they are people, civilians, who enter these bui=
The explosion at the market occurred in Baghdad's Shuala district, a work=
ing-class Shiite Muslim neighborhood on the city's northern outskirts. Some=
residents said they heard a plane overhead before the explosion, and one s=
aid he saw the glow of engines. When the bomb landed, they said, they heard=
no explosion and saw no fire before the mortal shrapnel spewed out.
Sahhaf called the incident a war crime and accused the United States of "c=
owardly attacks that hit civilian neighborhoods."
A similar explosion Wednesday devastated another neighborhood on Baghdad=
's outskirts, killing at least 14 people; U.S. officials suggested an erran=
t Iraqi surface-to-air missile was responsible. The crater at the Shuala ma=
rket was about four feet across and two feet deep, smaller than the gaping =
holes likely to be left by a cruise missile.
The missile that hit Kuwait early this morning appeared to have been the =
12th Iraqi missile to have been fired at the country since the war began, b=
ut the first to have caused any significant damage. Eight Iraqi missiles ha=
ve been intercepted by Patriot antimissile batteries, two have fallen into =
the desert and another into the Persian Gulf.
In southeastern Iraq, British forces were on the outskirts of Basra, but =
they continued to avoid heading into the city of 1.3 million for fear of be=
coming entrapped in a bloody urban battle.
British military officials said Iraqi paramilitary forces fired mortars a=
nd machine guns on a group of civilians trying to leave Basra, forcing them=
to return to the city. Lt. Cmdr. Emma Thomas, a British military spokeswom=
an, said an initial group of several hundred made it out safely, and were g=
iven food and medical attention. She said the firing started when a second =
group of about the same size started fleeing. It was not immediately known =
how many were killed or injured.
Intense fighting broke out in and around Basra overnight. After receiving =
a report of hundreds of Baath Party militiamen gathering in a building in t=
he center of the city, British commanders called in a U.S. airstrike. A del=
ayed-fuse missile was fired into the building, and British Maj. Fraser Smit=
h said about 75 percent of the building collapsed.
British troops also staged two overnight raids on the outskirts of Basra,=
targeting buildings that they had heard were being used by paramilitary un=
its to organize attacks. Four Iraqis were reported killed with no British c=
asualties. A British soldier died in a friendly fire incident northwest of =
Basra when the U.S. pilot of an A-10 Thunderbolt II attack plane fired on a=
light armored reconnaissance vehicle. Two British soldiers were also injur=
ed. It was the third deadly friendly fire incident involving the British so=
far in the war.
British troops in the area seized a water treatment plant on the west ban=
k of the Shatt al-Arab waterway outside Basra in an effort to restore servi=
ce for the city and reported finding a large number of rocket-propelled gre=
nades, mortars and other weapons. With the nearby port city of Umm Qasr cle=
ared of Iraqi mines, the British ship Sir Galahad docked with several hundr=
ed thousand pounds of water, rice, lentils, chickpeas and other food suppli=
Gen. Michael Jackson, the British chief of general staff, rejected report=
s that coalition forces had become "bogged down" by weather and greater-tha=
n-expected resistance from Iraq.=20
"Armies cannot move forever without stopping from time to time, to regrou=
p, to ensure that their supplies are up, and even, believe it or not, soldi=
ers need a bit of sleep from time to time," Jackson said at a briefing in L=
ondon. "So this 'bogged down' is a tendentious phrase. It's a pause whilst =
people get themselves sorted out for what comes next."
Baker reported from Marine combat headquarters in southern Iraq. Correspon=
dents Anthony Shadid in Baghdad, Rick Atkinson with U.S. forces in Iraq, Su=
san B. Glasser in Kuwait City, Keith B. Richburg outside Basra, Peter Finn =
in Basra and Alan Sipress in Doha, Qatar, and staff writer Jonathan Weisman=
in Washington contributed to this report.
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