View Full Version : Iraq update: Two highways to Baghdad closed; Fallujah negotiations continue

04-18-04, 07:21 AM
Iraq update: Two highways to Baghdad closed; Fallujah negotiations continue

By Jim Krane, The Associated Press
European edition, Friday, April 16, 2004

Baghdad — The U.S. military closed down two major highways into Baghdad on Saturday in the latest disruption caused by intensified attacks by anti-U.S. insurgents. U.S. and Iraqi negotiators reported progress in talks aimed at easing the fighting in Fallujah, while the besieged city saw its quietest day yet.

Sections of the two highways, north and south of the capital, were closed off to repair damage from a mounting number of roadside bombs. Commanders suggested the routes remained vulnerable to attacks by insurgents who have been targeting U.S. military supply lines.

"We've got to fix those roads, we've also got to protect those roads," Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters in Baghdad.

The military warned that civilians found on the closed sections "may be considered to be anti-coalition forces" and come under U.S. fire. Kimmitt said civilians would be redirected around the closed sections.

"There are many ways to get into Baghdad and many ways for getting out of Baghdad," he said.

Attacks by gunmen at the western, northern and southern entrances to the city have targeted key military supply lines, forcing the repeated closure of the main Baghdad-Amman road through the violent western district of Abu Ghraib.

On Friday, militants showed video of a soldier captured during one such attack on April 9. The soldier, Army Pfc. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, was captured in the same raid in which fighters seized Macon, Miss. truck driver Thomas Hamill.

Meanwhile, two Japanese hostages — an aid worker and a freelance journalist — were released Saturday to the same group of Islamic clerics who negotiated the freedom of three other Japanese hostages earlier this week.

This month has seen the worst violence in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein last year. U.S.-led forces are battling Sunni insurgents in Fallujah and a Shiite militia in the south.

Gunfire was nearly completely halted in Fallujah on Friday night, and the quiet continued through Saturday. A nominal truce in place since April 11 had been repeatedly shaken by nighttime battles as both insurgents and Marines dug in.

Talks toward ending the standoff were to resume Monday — but the top U.S. military negotiator suggested their continuation depended on continued quiet.

"I can't stress enough how key it is for the cease-fire to hold over the next 24 to 48 hours," Maj. Gen. Joseph Weber, the top U.S. military negotiator, said.

In the south, U.S. troops skirmished for a second day with militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. His aides said Iraqi-led mediation aimed at resolving a standoff with the Americans had broken down.

Militiamen attacked two U.S. Humvees outside Najaf, sparking a battle, witnesses said. Al-Sadr loyalists also fired mortars at the Spanish army base in the city, but there were no casualties.

A coalition soldier — apparently a member of the Spanish-led force in the city — was killed the night before in fighting with the militia, the U.S. military said.

Fighting on Friday also killed five militiamen, the military said. Soon after clashes Friday morning, a U.S. tank opened fire with a machine gun on a car passing its convoy, killing two civilians. An AP reporter witnessed the shooting.

A senior Shiite cleric warned Saturday that the standoff could deteriorate "into a war that will have terrible effects ... a war that will not be in the interest of anyone, especially coalition forces."

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi, a moderate cleric, said that if U.S. forces move to capture al-Sadr, it would "incite strong anger" among Iraq's majority Shiite majority.

U.S. commanders have said they have no plans for the time being into Najaf, the holiest Shiite city, where al-Sadr is located in his office. Some 2,500 U.S. troops deployed this week to the outskirts of Najaf on a mission to kill or capture al-Sadr.

A top al-Sadr aide, Jabir al-Khafaji, said mediations by Iraqi politicians had ended because of U.S. conditions that the cleric's al-Mahdi Army milita be disbanded.

U.S. forces at Najaf appear to be holding back their firepower to allow moderate clerics to bring pressure against al-Sadr, avoiding an assault on Najaf.

Negotiations outside Fallujah focused on strengthening a fragile truce, allowing residents access to hospitals and arranging the return of tens of thousands who have fled the city.

The two sides are also working on a way to carry out the handover of the killers of four American civilians, whose slaying and mutilation sparked the Marine assault on Fallujah, launched on April 5, a representative of the Iraqi Governing Council at the talks said.

"We have a mechanism for that, and when we conclude our talks we will announce that," Hashem al-Hassani told reporters after six hours of negotiations ended.

If the cease-fire holds and talks continue, negotiators have suggested they could move on to tackle more extensive moves sought by the Americans: the surrender of masses of weapons in the hands of insurgents, the return of police and Iraqi security forces to their posts and the handover of "terrorists and foreign militants."

"We are going to stabilize Fallujah," U.S. coalition spokesman Dan Senor said. "Those individuals must depart and in most cases they must be turned over to us."

In the first round of talks Friday, U.S. officials agreed to reposition troops to allow Fallujah residents better access to hospitals.

At the southern entrance to Fallujah, U.S. troops turned back a convoy of trucks bearing humanitarian supplies sent by the Iraqi Commerce Ministry.

In other violence Saturday:

• A mortar fired into a central Baghdad neighborhood killed a Sudanese man, and in a separate attack, a rocket hit a house in the southern district of Abu Dhseer, killing an Iraqi.

• Gunmen killed two Kurds in the northern city of Kirkuk in what police Brig. Gen. Mohammed Amin called an attempt to heighten ethnic tensions in the city, where Kurds, Arabs and other ethnic groups have been vying for influence.

— AP correspondents Lourdes Navarro in Fallujah and Bassem Mroue in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Updated Saturday, April 17, 3:30 p.m. EDT



04-18-04, 07:23 AM
Okinawa Marine re-enlists during video ceremony from Baghdad

By Fred Zimmerman, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Sunday, April 18, 2004

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Gunnery Sgt. Larry D. Liechty put technology to work Friday to include his family in his re-enlistment ceremony.

Liechty, an Okinawa-based Marine, is deployed to Camp Victory in Baghdad. His wife, Shelia, and children — L.J., 9, and Victoria, 4 — are holding down the home on Okinawa.

To ensure they could see him dedicate four more years to the Marine Corps, the 12-year veteran re-enlisted in front of a videophone in Iraq.

The embarkation and logistics chief from Okinawa’s Marine Air Control Group 18 left Okinawa on Jan. 4 to work with Combined Joint Task Force 7 in Baghdad.

Liechty said it was great seeing his family on the monitor.

“In the hook and jab, I’m a fighter,” said Liechty, who choked up at one point during his post ceremony speech while talking to his family. “I’m doing everything I can to hold it back right now, but they know how I feel.”

Sheila and the children talked with Liechty privately before the ceremony began.

She said she was “very relieved” to see he was doing fine, especially after all that’s been happening in Iraq recently.

“It was very overwhelming,” she said. “But I’m proud of everything he’s done, especially now because he’s trying to make things better [for the people of Iraq].”

While talking to their father, L.J. held up a video game he recently got and Victoria showed off a necklace, saying, “Look at the new necklace mommy bought me.”

When asked if their Dad missed them, L.J. replied, “We miss him more. It’s not fun on Saturdays now. He’s not there at my soccer games, he’s not there for family night, and he can’t watch ‘Survivor All-Star’ with us.”

After the short “family time,” the ceremony was held. Members of Liechty’s Okinawa unit filed into the conference room to watch the event. The re-enlisting officer in Baghdad was the 3rd Corps commander, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz, who said he was happy to re-enlist the Marine.

“My first thought was that I was proud another servicemember would ask me to re-enlist him,” Metz said. “It was my honor.”

Before the ceremony ended, Sheila was given a certificate of appreciation for her role in the Marine Corps family and a bouquet of flowers by her husband’s command.

After the ceremony, Liechty thanked everyone and said he was proud to be serving and was doing so for all of them.

“You see a lot of bad press out here, but when you see a little boy or little girl waving to you along the road, or a woman farming in a field, you realize what we’re doing here is important,” he said, adding that when he sees Iraqi children it reminds him of his own. “We can give a little of the freedom that we enjoy every day that they have never had.”

Liechty said he’s scheduled to return to Okinawa in July.



04-18-04, 07:28 AM
Five Marines Die in Iraq Border Gunbattle


BAGHDAD, Iraq - Marines battled a large force of Iraqi insurgents near the Syrian border Sunday in fighting that killed five Marines. At least 10 Iraqis, including the city police chief, were also killed, according to a hospital official.

The fighting at the town of Husaybah, on the Syrian border, appeared to be related to insurgent violence in the western towns of Fallujah and Ramadi.

It began when insurgents ambushed Marines in the city on Saturday, sparking a 14-hour-battle with hundreds of gunmen. Fighting continued Sunday in three neighborhoods of the city, which was sealed off by U.S. forces.

Five Marines were killed in the initial ambush and nine more were wounded throughout the fighting, an embedded journalist from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Ten Iraqis were killed and 30 wounded _ a mixture of insurgent fighters and civilian bystanders, said Hamid al-Alousi, a doctor at the hospital in the nearby city of Qaim, 240 miles west of Baghdad.

Some were shot by Marine snipers as they left their homes to use outdoor toilets behind their houses, the doctor told the Arab television station Al-Arabiyah.

Husaybah police director Imad al-Mahlawi was one of those killed by American snipers, according to a man who identified himself as al-Mahlawi's cousin, Adel Ezzeddin, Al-Arabiya reported.

According to Marine intelligence, nearly 300 Iraqi mujahedeen fighters from Fallujah and Ramadi launched the offensive in an outpost next to Husaybah, first setting off a roadside bomb to lure Marines out of their base and then firing 24 mortars as the Marines responded to the first attack, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch correspondent reported.

Marines have been battling Sunni insurgents in a siege of Fallujah, 35 miles west of the capital, and guerrilla activity has surged in nearby Ramadi, where 12 Marines were killed in an ambush on April 6.



04-18-04, 10:05 AM
Interpreter dodges bullets, befriends Marines <br />
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By: DARRIN MORTENSON - Staff Writer <br />
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FALLUJAH, Iraq ---- Ehaeb barely flinched Saturday when the rifles crackled nearby. <br />
<br />
As an interpreter for...

04-18-04, 12:14 PM
Ineffective and under fire <br />
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04/18/2004 <br />
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<br />
By Ron Harris <br />
Of the Post-Dispatch <br />
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<br />
AL QAIM, Iraq - As America and its handful of coalition partner nations move to hand over sovereignty to Iraq...

04-18-04, 12:14 PM
The Marines find they have two jobs - to train the security forces and to convince the local populace that those forces will actually be working for, not against, them.

Lopez and Carbins meet often with the local city council and area leaders to explain the process. Recently, they took the leaders to the phosphate plant to watch the training and to talk with the new recruits and the police who are being retrained.

The Marines graduated 41 out of 50 students from the first training class Saturday. A new class of 100 is expected to start immediately. Lopez said he doesn't expect to see dramatic change until the second class is on the streets.

"After I train those next 100 police officers, then we will start firing those who are not doing their job," he said. "I think then we will begin to see a difference."

Once the forces are on the street, they will initially patrol side-by-side with Marines, and the Marines will set up patrols and schedules for them.

Ultimately, the Marines want to create a force of 800 police officers and a 500-member Civil Defense Corps.

Lopez and Carbins have lots of experience with the process. The two oversaw the training and hiring of 1,800 police officers in Karbala, a city of 1.5 million south of Baghdad.

"From our past experience in Karbala, once we were able to give them the personnel, the training and the equipment, they started to perform well," Carbins said.

And Marines are hoping things go well for new security forces for their own selfish reasons.

"If we can get them to do what they need to do, then we don't have to come back over here," Gavigan said.

But not long after the Marines left Karbala, the situation deteriorated and a suicide car bomber drove into their former offices. Recently, the city has been the site of rioting and unrest.

Will the same thing happen in Al Qaim once the Marines leave?

"The only thing we can do is focus on the importance of the training and what we're doing right now to build them up," Carbins said. "That's all we can do."

Reporter Ron Harris
E-mail: ronharris6852@hotmail.com



04-18-04, 02:43 PM
By Ron Harris
Of the Post-Dispatch

HUSAYBAH, Iraq - Out here on the farthest reaches of the U.S. military effort in Iraq, they are calling it "The Silent War," the one where Marines are mortared and maimed, bombed and blown up, ambushed and killed, and almost nobody but they and their families know about it.

Out here on the western perimeter, a few hundred yards from the Syrian border, a battalion of Marines, spearheaded by the embattled Lima Company, has been fighting for nearly two months to forge stability on a piece of territory that the Army's 82nd Airborne carved out before them, also in relative anonymity. They don't make the headlines, not like those in Fallujah or Baghdad, but they still bleed and die, still mourn the loss of their comrades.

This week, they gathered to commemorate the lives and deaths of two of their brothers, Lance Cpl. Christopher Wasser and Lance Cpl. Elias Torres. Wasser was killed Thursday when insurgents detonated a roadside bomb next to his vehicle. Torres died after a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into his vehicle during a late-night ambush on Friday.

Wasser was a well-liked youngster who last year had gone through the first phase of the war with Lima Company and returned with the company this year to serve at a remote outpost right next to Husaybah, the largest and most treacherous city in the area.

On Monday, Marines from Lima Company and other Marine units gathered inside a large concrete structure to praise him for his willingness to always help others.

"I remember that Chris would do anything for any of us - anytime, any day," Lance Cpl. Timothy Dilorenzo said at the ceremony.

On Tuesday, the rest of the battalion turned out at Camp Al Qaim, about 40 minutes to the east of here, to honor Torres, a member of Kilo Company who was close to a number of Marines throughout the battalion.

"He was not just a good Marine," said one close friend at the ceremony, "he was also a great person."

And after each service, Marines wept.

Out here, the 1,000-plus men and women of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, under the command of Lt. Col. Matthew Lopez, work in relative obscurity. Their commander is Lt. Col Matthew Lopez, who jokingly calls himself "a Mexican from Chicago" and who is credited with working wonders in turning around the town of Karbala last year.

Now he and his Marines are trying to create the same sort of turnaround in Al Qaim, a region about the size of Bermuda with 230,000 residents located in the Al Anbar province. Al Qaim is populated largely by Sunni Muslims, many of whom prospered under Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. It's a much nastier place.

"Karbala was a lot safer," said Lance Cpl. Craig Carp, 20, of Celina, Tenn., and a close friend of Wasser. "This is a hellhole."

At the "tip of the spear" is Lima Company, nearly 200 Marines who are taking the brunt of the action. The unit is headed by Capt. Rich Gannon, a slight, soft-spoken Marine whose men describe him as "tough as a $2 steak."

The battalion's No. 1 mission is civil affairs - building schools, improving roads, fixing sewers, cleaning up trash, repairing soccer fields, installing lighting, developing a police force.

But in Lima Company's area of operation, those things have been put on the back burner. They are in a fight.

Since arriving in late February and taking over eight buildings that had once been a trading post between Syria and Iraq, the unit has been bombed and mortared almost incessantly. On one night, they counted more than 20 mortar rounds fired into their area. Three Marines have been killed and nearly 40 members of Lima have been wounded.

"Make no mistake about it, we're here in a battle," Gannon told the men of Weapons Platoon during a meeting last week. "I want you to go out and paint a school, like we did before. But right now, we're going to go out and kill some people, because there is some killing that needs to be done."

Gannon was surprised when he saw the heavy casualty reports from the 82nd Airborne, which had been there before the Marines.

"I was, like, 'Whoa, why haven't we been reading about this?'" he said while sitting in the small office that is his command center. "What's been going on here? Have they been having some kind of silent war? And, sure enough, they had been."

Husaybah, the company's main focus, is littered with roadside bombs that insurgents plant daily. The military calls them IEDs, improvised explosive devices. So many have been found on Market Street, the city's main thoroughfare, that the unit now rarely takes that road. On Monday, the unit found four 155 mm artillery shells on Market that were being primed to explode next to a military vehicle.

"If those had hit us, there's no way we would have survived," Lt. Col. Lopez said as his Humvee passed the spot where the explosives had been. Lima Company has been involved in so many assaults that either it or the anti-armor units attached to the company have suffered the bulk of the battalion's deaths and injuries.

"We've had more contact here in a week than we did in the entire first phase of the war," said Lt. Isaac Moore of Wasilla, Alaska, who fought with Lima last year and now is with Weapons Company.

Cpl. Matt Nale, 32, of Seattle, said he has seen it all, from mines to bombs to small-arms fire.

"I don't think there's a day that we've been out that we haven't been hit," he said.

Most of the injuries have been relatively minor. Fewer than 10 Marines have been taken out of commission.

"Still," said Navy Corpsman Justin Purviance of Denver, "if we keep getting wounded at the rate we're going, one of every three men in the unit will be injured before we get out of here."

All around the base, which is bounded by massive, 7-foot-tall barriers filled with sand, there are signs of enemy assaults. There are holes in the sand where mortars have fallen, a shrapnel-ridden makeshift toilet where one Marine was injured and the mess hall ceiling, which is pockmarked by holes from shrapnel that rained down on it one night.

"We wait every day thinking, who's going to be the next person who's going to be hit?" said Lance Cpl. Richard Laventer, 22, of Old Fort, N.C. "It's a shame that I've actually been practicing my Medivac request to make sure that I've got it right when we get hit."

It seems almost every Marine here has a story to tell.

Cpl. Dustin Swaney of Alpharetta, Ga., recounts being attacked off Market Street recently. He and other Marines had been living in an abandoned building to try to maintain security.

That day, they had been out, handing out candy, shaking hands with people. Residents had been giving them flowers. Suddenly, they were taking small arms fire from a house. A homemade bomb exploded, and suddenly the same people who had been giving them flowers were now cheering.

Three Marines were injured. The explosion also caught an Iraqi woman who had run out to get her two children. Marines helped her, and she survived, Swaney said.

Nathan Bedsaul of Mayberry, N.C., who turned 19 on Friday, was shot in the right arm one night but has stayed with the unit.

Cpl. Peter Milinkovic, 20, of Chicago, was injured when a mortar went off behind him and a second one in front of him caught him in the leg.

"I'm lucky," Milinkovic said. "I could hear the pieces of shrapnel going flying by my face. If one had hit me, I'd be dead."

But the worst assault came last week, when Wasser was killed and six more Marines were injured. That left a bad taste in their mouths, and Marines took a new, more aggressive stand.

Lt. Nathan Rugi, 26, head of the 1st Platoon, set the tone Saturday as he gave his men a briefing before they headed out for a midnight patrol that would last six hours.

"If someone is digging a hole (for an apparent bomb) on Market Street," he said, "shoot them."

"If someone is carrying an AK-47 and it's not the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, shoot them. If you see an ICDC with a rocket-propelled grenade, shoot them.

"We've got to kill some bad guys. I don't care which bad guys, but I don't want to harm civilians. Knock on the doors. If they don't open the doors, kick them in.

"And as soon as a shot is fired, we go into assault mode. I will assume the city of Husaybah has just assaulted my Marines. I won't lose seven Marines in one day. You do whatever you have to do."

The Marines know that their fight is largely underreported, far away from where most media concentrate.

"It's like, we're out here in the middle of the desert on our own," said Lance Cpl. Mischu Brady, 22, of Boise, Idaho.

"I guarantee you that people don't understand what we're going through," said Lt. Dan Carroll, 27, of Sugarland, Texas. "Sometimes, you walk right by a bomb, and there's just nobody there to push the button."

But most of them prefer the anonymity in which they're working.

"I'm fine with that," Moore said. "It's a good thing for the families. That way they don't worry so much."

But they are also dealing with a constant reality that they never faced as a unit last year - death.

And so it was earlier this week as they gathered to mourn Christopher Wasser.

"In the end," Gannon said at his memorial service, "we're going to win this thing, and Wasser is going to be our guiding light."

Reporter Ron Harris
E-mail: rharris@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 314-340-8214



04-18-04, 06:22 PM
Private commandos shoot back on the Iraq firing line <br />
Sun Apr 18, 2:18 PM ET <br />
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WASHINGTON (AFP) - Ex-military commandos armed with M4 rifles are fighting insurgents in Iraq (news - web sites) as...