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Iraq Digest

Iraq Report for Jan. 3

'Iron Grip', Civilians Attacked, US Troops Ambushed, Reporters Abducted

by NewStandard Staff

Operation Iron Grip continues while Iraqis protest; a US convoy reportedly attacks Iraqi civilians; Reuters journalists taken hostage

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Bombings, Raids, Protests Continue as "Iron Grip" Campaign Enters 5th Night

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US Military officials in Iraq refused to reveal details of Friday night bombardments and ground assaults, but reported success resulting from a Thursday night raid on a Baghdad mosque. In response to the continued nightly attacks, which are part of the US military’s ongoing Operation Iron Grip, Iraqis protested at multiple sites.

Residents of Hadithah told ABC News that four locals were killed during overnight raids on the Sunni town by American troops reportedly using armored vehicles. An AP Television cameraman filmed four shrouded bodies in a hospital. Hundreds of Iraqis turned out to protest the following day.

In another event, following Friday prayers at a Baghdad mosque, angry Sunni worshippers gathered to demonstrate against an assault staged the previous day, during which US troops and Iraqi Civil Defense Corps personnel raided the mosque. According to Reuters, protest participants chanted "Down with America" and said US soldiers damaged a copy of the Koran on display at the mosque.

For its part, the military claims the raid in question turned up a significant cache of small arms, including rifles and explosives. Soldiers also detained 32 people an Army spokesman referred to as "suspects." US officials further insist some of those captured are foreigners, citing a non-Iraqi dialect as evidence. The Pentagon has long claimed foreign nationals make up a significant portion of insurgency forces in Iraq, but has had a difficult time proving it.

A military spokesman dismissed reports that Army personnel "desecrated" holy artifacts in the mosque.

Imam Adel-Samaray told IslamOnline that the raid, which targeted Sunnis, was part of a "concealed [plot] to drive a wedge between people of the same religion."

Overnight Friday, a bombardment widely described as "massive" sent echoes throughout the capital. There were no reports of Iraqi casualties, and military leaders are refusing to reveal any details of the aerial bombing, except that C-130 gunships and A-10 anti-tank planes, both renowned for their destructive capabilities, were employed over the area for a period of hours.

Reporting for Electronic Iraq, Dahr Jamail visited the targeted Al-Dora neighborhood Saturday and photographed some of the destruction. Jamail reports that locals pointed out unexploded mortar rounds, which, based on experience, they said they did not expect the United States to remove. A recent Human Rights Watch report said unexploded ordinance is a major cause of civilian deaths and injuries in Iraq.

Witnesses also brought Jamail to what they said was the site of an explosion that killed five US soldiers and injured two others the previous day. Jamail reports evidence of an attack, including pieces of a Humvee, blood-stained military gear and a partially-used intravenous bag, all found at the scene. Numerous locals insisted that the Humvee had been struck by a roadside bomb, killing five Americans. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqis reported, more US troops swept in, taking fifteen local men captive.

Called from the scene, the US-run Coalition Public Information Center reportedly verified two US servicemen had died in an incident there the previous day. No official statement has been issued on the event.

US Military spokespersons have said Operation Iron Grip is intended to reduce attacks against occupation forces and civilians alike. "There is a capability in the air that can quickly respond against anybody who would want to harm Iraqi citizens or coalition forces," Army Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters.

Some critics say aerial bombardments against elusive guerilla forces and "poorly-targeted" raids only make matters worse by exacerbating anti-US sentiment.

Police: U.S. Troops Kill 4 Civilians in Car Passing Army Convoy

An Iraqi official told AFP that members of a US military unit opened fire Saturday on a civilian vehicle trying to drive past their convoy in the city of Tikrit, killing four Iraqis. Tikrit Police Chief Ussama Adhan Abdel Ghaffer said the car had been hit by 27 rounds of ammunition. He also reported one of the dead passengers was a 9 year-old child.

The US 4th Infantry Division, which patrols the Tikrit area, insisted its personnel were not involved in the incident. Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russel, a 4th Division representative, did say he was aware of the shooting.

A surviving fifth passenger buttressed the claim that it was US soldiers who attacked the civilians.

Upwards of 10,000 Iraqi civilians and untold numbers of Iraqi military personnel have also died since the war began.

Increasingly "Sophisticated" Insurgents Kill 3 U.S. Soldiers in 2 Incidents

Resistance fighters shelled a US base north of Baghdad with mortar rounds, killing one soldier and injuring two. In a separate attack, insurgents killed two more American soldiers and wounded another three by ambushing a US Army convoy inside Baghdad.

The mortar attack was against the 4th Infantry Division's base in Balad, about halfway between Baghdad and Samarra.

During the ambush, which took place in Baghdad's Al-Rashid district, rebels reportedly set off a roadside explosive and then fired on the convoy as it passed.

These guerilla strikes followed Thursday's downing of the sixth US helicopter to be taken out by insurgents since October.

While insisting that insurgency incidents are becoming less frequent, General Kimmitt acknowledged to reporters that rebels are growing "more sophisticated" and that guerilla tactics are "getting a little more complex."

The US death rate in Iraq has worsened dramatically in the past four months. While 65 soldiers were killed in action during the four months between May 1 and September 1, 2003, the Pentagon has reported 215 US troop deaths in the past four months. By way of comparison, 115 troops were reported dead during the period the Bush administration later dubbed "major hostilities," namely prior to May 1st.

Journalists Attacked and Abducted by U.S. Military

A driver employed by Reuters news service says US troops fired on him and three fellow Reuters personnel. Two photojournalists and their drivers -- all Iraqi -- reportedly came under attack while filming at a checkpoint near the site of Thursday's helicopter crash in Falluja. Three were later captured by US forces.

Alaa Noury, the Iraqi driver who was not detained, says clearly-marked Reuters photographers were filming when troops began opening fire. Noury says all four fled the scene. He returned to Baghdad with footage taken of the incident and says the others continued to work in the area.

The other three men were detained by occupation forces, the US Army later informed Reuters. Neither details about the circumstances, nor any allegations against the journalists and the second driver have been revealed to Reuters.

Meanwhile, without explicitly connecting the events, the Army reported an

incident wherein "enemy personnel posing as media" fired small arms and rocket-propelled grenades at US troops securing the helicopter crash site. The Army says it tracked an "enemy" vehicle to a nearby house and captured four men it claims were the attackers.

Reuters maintains its employees were merely filming the crash scene from a safe distance and were clearly marked "PRESS".

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