Tough U.S. Advance Leaves Iraq Bus Full of Corpses
Thu March 27, 2003 09:56 AM ET
By Sean Maguire
QAL'AT SUKKAR, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. Marines treated enemy wounded Thursday and searched the blood-stained luggage of Iraqis killed inside a bus by advancing armored units.
Reporters counted four corpses outside the bus and Marines said another 16 lay inside. All the dead were adult men, wearing a mixture of civilian and military clothing and had papers that appeared to identify them as Iraqi Republican Guard.
The Marines searched the luggage for weapons, but one told Reuters that all that was found were two small handguns.
Two men who survived the attack, which appeared to have taken place Wednesday, were being tended by Marine medics and being prepared for evacuation to a hospital. Other survivors had apparently escaped into nearby fields and palm tree plantations.
One Marine picked up a wallet. Inside were wedding pictures, an army membership card and a picture of the England World Cup soccer team.
Cannon and machine-gun fire had peppered the bus with holes, killing most of the passengers in their seats.
The grisly remains were evidence of the ruthless efficiency with which lead Marine units are clearing the road north of the central city of Nassiriya to make way for a huge military convoy.
Reporters have seen more than a dozen burned-out trucks and buses and the corpses of at least 60 Iraqi men lying beside them during a three-day push out of Nassariya, where Marines suffered up to 10 fatalities during ambushes on Saturday.
The U.S. deaths, the largest daily toll so far in the week-old war, have put the Marines on the defensive. Since the weekend they have laid down heavy covering fire as they go through towns, while insisting they are taking care to spare civilians.
Pick-up trucks with Iraqi families have been seen on the road, untouched by the fast-moving, scouting vehicles that have picked off the trucks and buses with their heavy cannon and machine-guns. But civilians have died in cross-fire in towns.
It was impossible for reporters to see if any of the drivers or passengers killed in the road attacks were civilians. U.S. officers said they believed the dead were men being sent to defend Iraqi towns.
IRREGULAR FORCES' THREAT
U.S. officers inside this small town 140 miles southeast of Baghdad said the threat they faced from irregular forces trying to ambush U.S. and British troops required an aggressive approach.
Brig. Gen. John Kelly, visiting the front-line forces, told Reuters he had himself seen armed men exiting civilian buses.
"That's the problem we face here. We have very little time to decide if a truck or bus is going to be hostile," he said.
The Marines were attacked by an apparent suicide truck bomb in Nassiriya over the weekend, he said. The vehicle blew up with an enormous blast when shots were fired into it.
The "rules of engagement" for the U.S./British invasion of Iraq normally require clear evidence a target is of a military nature or is armed and hostile before it can be fired upon.
Resistance by Iraqi irregular non-uniformed units have slowed the Marine advance and forced them into skirmishes in urban areas that they would have preferred to avoid. But Kelly said the hold-ups were not dramatic.
"We were delayed a little but we're basically on our timeline," he said.
Marine forces are heading north toward Kut, a major city on the Tigris river some 105 miles southeast of Baghdad, in an apparent bid to pressure the capital from its eastern flanks. Kut was the scene of a major British defeat in World War I.
Much larger and more heavily armored army and Marine forces are massing west and south of the Iraqi capital as the U.S. and British forces press on with their week-old campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Kelly said Iraqi civilians have generally been "very positive" toward the invasion force.
But the Marine defensive tactics used in Qal'at Sukkar and other towns, where houses fronting main streets were raked with fire and tall buildings singled out for a pounding as potential observation posts, will have won them few friends.
As the convoy left Qal'at Sukkar on Thursday a large crowd of Iraqi men and children gathered on the main highway behind them. The crowd said nothing, just silently watched as their violent overnight guests departed.
Original URL: http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=focusIraqNews&storyID=2459573
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