[ Once again, U.S. reports of casualties may be too rosy: According to doctors on the ground, about half of the bodies are noncombatants’. From the piece:
An American spokesman … insisted that almost all the Iraqi dead were combatants. But according to doctors at the Samarra general hospital, of the first 47 bodies brought in, 11 were women, five children and seven elderly men. The hospital said it was running out of emergency supplies as more and more casualties arrived….
Homes were flattened and dozens of cars were set alight in yesterday’s operation. The people of Samarra, their electricity and water supplies cut off by US and Iraqi government forces, took shelter in their homes, but said that many had been caught up in the crossfire. “We are terrified by this violence used by the Americans to subdue the city. My wife and children are scared to death.”
US troops kill 100 in attack on rebel town
by Kim Sengupta in Baghdad
American-led forces stormed the rebel stronghold of Samarra yesterday, launching a major offensive to wrest back control of the country’s so-called “no-go” areas before the elections scheduled for January.
More than 100 people were killed and another 100 wounded as the city was pounded by air strikes and tank shells. The US military claimed the casualties were insurgents, but doctors in the city reported women, children and the elderly among the dead. Thousands of people were said to be fleeing the town, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The US attack, backed by Iraqi allies, was the first assault on a “no-go” rebel enclave since the bloody battles at Fallujah and Najaf. Samarra, Fallujah and Sadr City, on the outskirts of Baghdad, had passed out of the control of the Americans and the Iraqi interim government, and yesterday’s operation was seen by some as the first step towards meeting the US commitment to retake guerrilla strongholds so elections can go ahead as planned.
In a separate action, eight Iraqis are reported to have been killed during an American raid on the sprawling Shia slum of Sadr City on Thursday night.
The attacks were launched hours after Baghdad suffered a day of suicide car-bombings in which 51 people were killed – 35 of them children – and 208 were injured. A statement purportedly from the Tawhid and Jihad group, led by the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility on a website for the “heroic operations”. The group is also believed to be holding the British hostage Kenneth Bigley.
Meanwhile an unofficial mediator, Philippe Brett, negotiating for the release of two French journalists being held hostage, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, told a French radio station that he was “sitting next to them”. However, there was no other confirmation that contact had been made.
Yahlin Kaya, a Turkish construction worker taken hostage, was freed by the Americans during the operation in Samarra.
The US military said one soldier had been killed and four injured during the offensive. An American spokesman also insisted that almost all the Iraqi dead were combatants. But according to doctors at the Samarra general hospital, of the first 47 bodies brought in, 11 were women, five children and seven elderly men. The hospital said it was running out of emergency supplies as more and more casualties arrived.
The rebel takeover of Samarra had come after an unofficial ceasefire and withdrawal by the US military on 30 May. The Americans returned briefly on 9 September under another peace deal brokered by tribal leaders by which they agreed to provide millions of dollars in reconstruction aid in return for an end to attacks on coalition forces.
But sporadic clashed continued and last Tuesday masked gunmen carrying the banners of Zarqawi’s group paraded through Samarra in armed vehicles. That provoked the US response. Troops of the US 1st Infantry Division, Iraqi National Guard and Iraqi Army moved into Samarra early yesterday under cover of heavy bombardment and backed by armour.
Rebels using rocket-propelled grenades, machine-guns and semi-automatic rifles fought back. A helicopter was hit but made a safe landing. The US forces sunk two boats on the river Tigris, claiming they were being loaded with arms.
Amid the sound of battle, residents saw smoke billowing from the vicinity of the Imam Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hassan al-Askari shrine, one of the holiest of the Shia shrines. Major Neal O’Brien, of the 1st Infantry Division said the shrine had not been damaged while securing the area. A statement by the US military said the operation had come in response to “repeated and unprovoked attacks by anti-Iraqi forces”.
Homes were flattened and dozens of cars were set alight in yesterday’s operation. The people of Samarra, their electricity and water supplies cut off by US and Iraqi government forces, took shelter in their homes, but said that many had been caught up in the crossfire. “We are terrified by this violence used by the Americans to subdue the city. My wife and children are scared to death and they have not been able to sleep since last night. I hope the fighting ends as soon as possible,” said Mahmoud Saleh, 33, a civil servant. Rahim Abdul-Karim, a retired schoolteacher, said: “There has been a lot of deaths, and they have been of ordinary people … They are killing us to save us.”
Iraqi ministers have been saying that Fallujah, where al-Zarqawi is believed to be based, will be retaken in the next few weeks. But most observers believe it is unlikely to happen before the US presidential election in November.