A marine driving a shot-up humvee (KRT)
It’s more than just an uprising in Fallujah; it’s jihad.
FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) “” Fighting overnight between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents killed 60 Iraqis and wounded more than 130, hospital officials said today, as mosques called for holy war against Americans and women were seen carrying weapons in the streets.
Marines and gunmen were engaged in heavy battles in the Dubat neighbourhood on the eastern side of the besieged city and in other parts in the centre, witnesses said. U.S. warplanes opened fire on groups of Iraqis in the street.
Rocket-propelled grenade fire set a U.S. Humvee ablaze, injuring soldiers inside, witnesses said.
Among the dead were 26 people “” including 16 children and up to eight women “” killed when warplanes struck four houses late Tuesday, said Hatem Samir, head of the clinic at Fallujah Hospital. Others were killed in street battles before dawn and into the day today.
Messages from mosque loudspeakers called for “jihad,” or holy war. Some gunmen in the street were seen carrying mortars, and some women carried automatic weapons.
Meanwhile, another story reports that “U.S. forces battling Sunni insurgents in this violent city apparently hit a mosque filled with people Wednesday, and witnesses said as many as 40 people were killed.”
With reports of jihad against Americans being preached from these mosques, and other reports identifying those forty as “insurgents,” this is not unjustified. But watch for the outcry.
Hundreds of U.S. marines and Iraqi police have surrounded Fallujah, west of Baghdad, since Monday in a large-scale operation aimed at uprooting Sunni Arab guerrillas behind attacks on Americans.
Marines launched a major operation this week to root out Sunni Muslim guerrillas from Fallujah, west of Baghdad, one of their strongest bastions. But on Tuesday, the insurgents opened a new front with a bloody attack on marines in the nearby town of Ramadi.
Gunmen hiding in Ramadi’s main cemetery opened fire on U.S. patrols, sparking a gunbattle in alleys and near the governor’s palace, witnesses said, reporting at least two Iraqis killed. “A significant number” of marines were killed, and initial reports indicate it may be up to a dozen, a senior defence official said from Washington.
New fighting erupted in the same Ramadi neighbourhood today, witnesses said.
In the south, Shiite militiamen attacked coalition troops in five cities Tuesday in a revolt sparked by a U.S. crackdown on their leader, radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr urged Iraqis to rise up against the U.S. occupation and vowed to die rather than be captured by U.S. forces. “America has shown its evil intentions, and the proud Iraqi people cannot accept it,” he said in a statement. “They must defend their rights by any means they see fit.”
Clashes continued overnight between militiamen from al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army and coalition troops in Kut, Karbala and the mainly Shiite neighbourhood of Sadr City in Baghdad. At least 12 Iraqis were killed in Kut and four in Baghdad, along with two Iranians caught in the crossfire in Karbala, according to doctors.
The al-Mahdi Army appeared to be in control of Kut and Kufa, occupying government buildings and roaming the streets, as Iraqi police stood aside. Witnesses reported that a British civilian working for a private security company was killed when militiamen took over the company’s office in Kut.
Signs were emerging of growing sympathy between Sunni Muslim insurgents and al-Sadr’s Shiite movement. In mainly Sunni Ramadi, portraits of al-Sadr were posted on government buildings, schools and mosques, along with graffiti praising him for his “heroic deeds” and “valiant uprising against the occupier.”
Iraq’s Shiite majority has largely avoided anti-U.S. violence, shunning al-Sadr’s virulent anti-U.S. rhetoric as well as the insurgency led by Sunnis in central Iraq. U.S. officials have expressed concern that al-Sadr could start co-operating with the Sunni guerrillas.
The Euphrates River city 56 kilometres west of Baghdad is a stronghold of the anti-U.S. insurgency that sprang up shortly after Saddam Hussein’s ouster a year ago.
Marine Maj. Joseph Clearfield said the marines fought their way into the city from the north and south on Tuesday, reaching a point about a kilometre into the city.
The troops pulled back in the evening, but still occupied buildings in the city, Clearfield said.
“I think we killed a lot of bad guys,” he said, adding that residents were coming forward with information on insurgents.
Heavy fighting also occurred Tuesday between marines entrenched in the desert and guerrillas firing from houses on Fallujah’s northeast outskirts. For hours into the night, the sides traded fire, while teams of marines moved in and out of the neighbourhood, seizing buildings to use as posts and battling gunmen. Helicopters hovered overhead, firing at guerrilla hideouts.
U.S. authorities launched their offensive against al-Sadr and his militia after a series of weekend uprisings in Baghdad and cities and towns to the south that took a heavy toll in both American and Iraqi lives.
The fight against al-Sadr, who has drawn backing from young and impoverished Shiites with rousing sermons demanding a U.S. withdrawal, sent his black-garbed militiamen against coalition troops Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.