The New York Times
June 14, 2003
As U.S. Fans Out in Iraq, Violence and Death on Rise
By PATRICK E. TYLER
AL HIR, Iraq, June 13 _ American troops fanning out to reinforce allied control of Iraq came under attack again today in at least three separate places north of Baghdad. Retaliating, they killed at least seven people, military officials said.
The Americans who came under attack said that they had killed two of their assailants. Then, in a confusing encounter that produced contradictory versions of events, at least five more Iraqis were killed. Those Iraqis were characterized by local people as innocent bystanders, but the American military said they were attackers.
In the northern city of Mosul, at least one American soldier was seriously wounded when patrols came under fire from snipers _ some of them hurling hand grenades _ in the city center. The United States Central Command said that 74 people had been detained near Kirkuk, and that at least some were suspected of sympathizing with Al Qaeda. It was not clear if this indicated that at least some of those captured were not Iraqis, but militants from other Arab countries.
The American goal appears to be to keep the pressure on and whittle down these fighters until a new Iraqi authority is able to maintain order. This is not new resistance, military officials say, but rather old resistance that the American troops here are only now taking on as they extend their reach in Iraq, fanning out to areas north and west of the capital where they had less of a presence during the war than in areas in southern and central Iraq, which had to be controlled to clear the route to Baghdad.
What appeared significant was that the muscular military campaign to uproot, arrest or kill the remnants of guerrilla fighters loyal to Saddam Hussein, who remains unaccounted for, has caused civilian casualties and is inflaming sentiments among the Iraqis.
In this patch of mud-brick homes 36 miles north of Baghdad, nearly everyone was asleep Thursday night when the explosion and gunfire erupted on the main road a quarter mile away.
A group of Hussein loyalists had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at an M1-A1 tank in a convoy of vehicles from the Seventh Armored Cavalry squadron. The soldiers returned fire and killed two Iraqis on the spot, military officials said. No Americans were hurt.
The next thing the villagers heard was an Iraqi voice that cried out from the dirt road that winds into the village, "The Americans are coming! Get out of your houses!"
In the heat of the night, only the moon illuminated the shorn wheat fields as men, women and children ran for the cluster of sheep and cows bedded down among the thistles, villagers said. Some of the villagers laid among the animals for cover, but some kept running.
Then came the rumble of the diesel engine armored personnel carrier and the clatter of its machine gun, they said. In a flash of tracer bullets and screams, the armored vehicle did its work, spraying the field, setting the brown wheat stubble on fire, and then roaring away.
Not all of the villagers got up. A 70-year-old farmer, three of his sons and a grandson died in the assault on the village. This morning, according to the villagers' account, military officials drove into the village and apologized for the attack.
"They said it was a mistake," said Rassaq Ali Jassim, 40, whose father and three brothers died. "They said it was dark and there had been an attack on the road. They apologized."
Military officials at the Seventh Armored Cavalry's base near here said they could not confirm the villagers' account. One officer familiar with the attack said that American soldiers killed two Saddam Fedayeen fighters on the road near the village. He also said five "locals" were killed when armored units chased one or more attackers who escaped. A subsequent request to speak to an officer of the Seventh Cavalry drew no response.
The story of what happened late Thursday and early today in this tiny hamlet is a tale of grief for the clan of Shiite Muslims who today were erecting funeral tents for the wake that will occur here this weekend.
But the military response has done little to clarify what happened.
In contrast to the policy during the war in Iraq, the United States military has been more inclined to give specific figures for Iraqi casualties since President Bush formally declared an end to major combat hostilities on May 1. The perils of specifics became apparent today, when the United States Central Command issued a statement saying their forces had killed 27 Iraqis, four in the original exchange on the highway when the tank came under fire, and 23 more in a subsequent assault.
"Tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles reinforced with AH-64 Apache helicopters pursued the enemy personnel, killing 23 of the attackers," the military statement, which was widely reported, said.
Tonight, an official with the United States military command in Iraq said the report of the attack was wrong, and that seven people died. There was no elaboration of what happened in the village, where residents say five family members were killed by "indiscriminate" fire.
"This is our fortune," said Mr. Jassim. "First we were persecuted by Saddam Hussein, and now by the Americans."
Military officials in Baghdad and at the United State Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Fla., said they had no additional information on the attack. A spokesman said "sometimes the numbers do vary" in reports of military action from the field, and he added that counting up Iraqi casualties in such an operation is "just not significant information."
In London today, a British-American research group said that estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq since the war began were from 5,534 to 7,207.
Ten miles north of here in Balad, 4,000 soldiers of the Fourth Infantry Division this week conducted an operation called "Peninsula Strike" in an area where a large number of Baath Party loyalists and supporters of Mr. Hussein live. Soldiers arrested more than 370 people and though they said they captured a number of senior Baathists, residents said a large number of innocent civilians were caught up in the dragnet.
One man, Jamal Daham, 22, a third-year computer science student at Baghdad University, said he was held for four days. He was blindfolded, handcuffed and his mouth taped, he said. His American interrogator, he said, threatened "to send me to Cuba," where the United States is holding, at Guant namo Bay, people suspected of belonging to Al Qaeda and Afghanistan's ousted Taliban..
American military officials have given few details of the tactics they have employed in dealing with the civilians of Balad.
Mr. Daham said his interrogator wanted him to name all of the Baath Party officials and senior Iraqi Army officials on the Balad peninsula, a finger of land surrounded by the Tigris River and home to one branch of the Al-Jibouri clan, known for its loyalty to Mr. Hussein over the years.
"He told me that if I was sent to Cuba, I would be in a cell with another guy and my girlfriend would run away from me," Mr. Daham said of his interrogation.
In Balad today, when a reporter tried to ask a soldier for information about the operations in the area, an officer called out, ordering him not to speak.
The men of Al Hir this evening were putting up the frames for the funeral tents. Across the pasture, four dead sheep killed by the gunfire lay bloated in the animal pen near the cinderblock hut where Ali Jassim al-Khazraji, the patriarch of the village, died on the pallet where he was sleeping near the flock.
His grandson, Qassim Zubar, 19, was running to reach his grandfather when he was killed. A concrete aqueduct near where he fell was pocked by machine gun fire. Hamza Ali Jassim, Abd Ali Jassim and Amir Ali Jassim died where they fell in the field. Their head wounds were so severe that two of them had to be identified by an appendectomy scar and a missing finger.
At dawn, an American armored vehicle came and took the bodies, the residents said. The soldiers searched the houses for weapons, but found none, they added. By midmorning, the soldiers returned with the bodies, which were washed and sent to the holy city of Najaf, where most Shiites bury their dead. An officer delivered the apology, the residents said.
This evening, while the men worked, the women gathered in a circle in the dirt courtyard, weeping and lamenting their losses. All the residents of the village are from the al-Khazraji clan, a prominent Shiite Muslim tribe that was sympathetic to the American and British effort to topple Mr. Hussein.
Noufa Hamoud, 60, whose eyes reddened with tears, said that before the attack on the village, her attitude had been, "Long live Bush, Long live Bush." She was an aunt of the three brothers, and her weathered face bore the small tattoos of rural Iraq.
Now, she said of Mr. Bush: "I will not forgive him. They were so young, they had children, they had never committed any crime. He has leveled our family."
Original URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/14/international/worldspecial/14IRAQ.html
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