Apr. 27, 2004 – Several firefights were reported in or around the US-encircled cities of Fallujah and Najaf today as US patrols penetrated the urban centers in what some said were deliberate attempts to provoke a response from resistance forces.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, who told todayâ€™s coalition press conference that Army personnel carefully avoided the Shiâ€™ite population centers of Najaf and Kufa, reported two separate incidents during which troops and warplane pilots killed 64 Iraqis near the cities. He said the killings were in response to attacks on US patrols or positions.
In an interview with Aljazeera TV, a representative of Shiâ€™ite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr called the clashes "a provocation." The spokesman, Qais al-Khazaali, added that US troops had still not crossed the "red line" by entering Najafâ€™s holiest areas, which he warned would lead to a massive defensive response by Shiâ€™ite fighters, including "martyr operations," widely understood to mean suicide attacks.
According to IslamOnline.net, hospital officials contested General Kimmittâ€™s claims that all Iraqis killed were armed members of Al-Sadrâ€™s Mehdi Army. Some told Aljazeera TV that many of the wounded and dead killed by US gunship operators were in fact civilians. Reuters added that at least some of the dead counted at area hospitals appeared to be noncombatants.
Hospital officials also accused the US forces, who control the main hospital in Najaf, of denying wounded Iraqis access to emergency care at the facility, Aljazeera reports. Also in that area, units of the US 1st Armored Division took over positions abandoned by Spanish troops who departed yesterday on orders of Spainâ€™s newly-elected Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.
Meanwhile in Fallujah, Marines continued offensive operations and shelling intended to route out and eliminate resistance to what military officials call "pacification" attempts against the Sunni population center, report Bloomberg and National Public Radio. After Marines destroyed part of a mosque in fighting yesterday, Iraqi fighters staged ambushes against US forcesâ€™ attempts at penetrating what Marine commanders describe as "Sunni strongholds." Each side suffered numerous casualties during the fighting, but most reports suggest US forces inflicted several times as many casualties as they suffered.
General Kimmitt said plans to use Iraqi security forces in patrols through Fallujah have not yet come to fruition, as Iraqi security forces are receiving hurried instruction in urban counter-insurgency warfare.
Television footage shows Marines directing artillery fire and massive AC-130 Spectre gunships (nicknamed "slayers" by infantrymen, notes NPR). Most of the fire was directed against the embattled Jolan neighborhood where numerous fires were reported by journalists embedded with US forces. The Spectre gunship is a cargo plane converted into a flying weapon. The aircraft orbits its target from above while operators fire numerous high-powered weapons, including 25mm machineguns, 40mm cannons and a 105mm howitzer, in a haunting shower of weapons. The Pentagon boasts this enables the gunship to concentrate the fire of 2000 large bore bullets and artillery shells into the ground below, destroying nearly anything in its path.