Baqouba, Iraq; June 24, 2004 – Just six days before Iraqâ€™s interim government is to gain partial sovereignty from the US, resistance fighters launched a series of coordinated attacks against US forces and Iraqi government targets in Baghdad, Mosul, Ramadi and Baqouba today. Fierce fighting between the Iraqi resistance and US forces has killed at least 85 people and wounded 320, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health..
Here in Baqouba, a small city 50 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, early morning attacks by resistance fighters and bombing raids by the US military killed 13 civilians and wounded another 15 , according to the Health Ministry. Sporadic fighting continued around Baqouba this afternoon after US forces sealed off the city.
A sergeant with the 1st Infantry Division, whose fatigue label said Johnson, said resistance fighters ambushed a US patrol in the city at 5:30 this morning, killing two soldiers and wounding seven others. This was later confirmed by a Multi-National Corps Iraq Press Release. Sergeant Johnson said his unit called in tanks for support after the initial attack.
Shortly after the attack, insurgents appeared to have taken control of the Al-Mufraq district in western Baqouba. Residents here said occupation forces had retreated from the area after being ambushed.
"This morning the mujahideen defeated the occupying forces in Al-Mufraq," said Amer Alwhan, a 29 year-old engineer who lives near the area. He also said that early this morning, resistance fighters, often referred to by locals as mujahideen, distributed leaflets throughout the city. The leaflets told residents to stay in their homes because US forces would be attacked in the city.
Scenes on the outskirts of Baqouba seemed transplanted from April's fighting in Fallujah. A car riddled with bullets sat on the median of the main road leading into and out of the town, while a pile of empty bullet casings lay 100 feet away near concrete mangled by tank treads. The lifeless body of the carâ€™s driver lay beside the vehicle draped in a black mourning flag.
In another offensive apparently coordinated with the ambush, at least 30 resistance fighters attacked the police station in central Baqouba with small arms and rocket propelled grenades, according to the US military. Residents claim that 21 Iraqi Police (IP) were killed during the attack, and that Iraqi fighters subsequently took control of the station.
At the same time, according to residents, resistance fighters also attacked the Blue Dome government building in central Baqouba with mortars, rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons, then proceeded to occupy the building,.
"There was so much fighting here this morning," said Abdel Humam who lives in downtown Baqouba. "The freedom fighters took control of everything here and kicked the Americans out of the city."
General Walid Khalid, the police chief of Diyala Province, told Aljazeera TV that the situation in Baqouba would soon be under control. Resistance fighters had reportedly set Khalidâ€™s home ablaze.*
"The resistance killed 21 [Iraqi police] here today," said a local Sheikh who asked to remain anonymous, "because they are collaborators with the occupation army."
Iyad Allawi, Iraqâ€™s interim prime minister and former Baâ€™ath Party strongman, blamed the Baqouba attacks on remnants of Saddam Husseinâ€™s Baâ€™athist regime, whom he called "isolated."
But witnesses in Baqouba said that some of the fighters who attacked the police station and government building proclaimed loyalty to Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and wore yellow headbands similar to those adorning Al-Zarqawiâ€™s fighters, Reuters reports.
Residents of Baqouba, along with Major Neal E. O'Brien, a US 1st Infantry Division spokesman, said that at 9 a.m., US warplanes dropped three 500 pound bombs in the city near the soccer stadium. The strikes destroyed three buildings that the military says were used by resistance fighters for launching attacks.
Ken Backus, an assistant liaison for the Coalition Provisional Authority at the Ministry of Health in Baghdad, said the Administrator of the Baqouba General Hospital and his assistant had been assassinated during the fighting. He declined a longer interview at his office this morning. "We are in the midst of a national emergency," he said.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, deputy director of operations for the US Army in Iraq, told reporters that fighting in the affected cities in Iraq had subsided by noon.
But at 12:15 p.m., two US Apache Helicopters were clearly visible, engaged in strafing runs that swept over parts of the embattled city.
Seemingly no one was off limits for US soldiers. American troops in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle fired at our car on the outskirts of the city.
Inside the city, several large bomb blasts were heard around 1 p.m., while the streets remained mostly empty and all of the shops closed for fear of continued fighting. However, no US military units were visible anywhere inside the city itself.
Unpiloted surveillance drones buzzed ominously overhead, their constant hum one of the only active signs of a US presence in all of Baqouba.
Many people here blame the occupation forces for instigating the resistance by conducting periodic home raids and continuing patrols inside the city.
Haji Faisal, a member of a very large family in the area, said: "The mujahideen are fighting for their country against the Americans, who are the occupiers. We all accept this resistance."
A local Iraqi engineer, Qahtan Mhamoud shared criticism. "We do not like the occupiers," he said. "Nobody here likes the occupiers."
Baqouba today stood eerily reminiscent of Fallujah in April. On April 4, US Marines sealed the city of Fallujah after losing control of most neighborhoods. A month long siege ensued before the military ceded their security authority to the Iraqi Police, Civil Defense Corps and mujahideen.
Scenes on the outskirts of Baqouba seemed transplanted from April's fighting in Fallujah. A car riddled with bullets sat on the median of the main road leading into and out of the town, while a pile of empty bullet casings lay 100 feet away near concrete mangled by tank treads.
The lifeless body of the carâ€™s driver lay beside the vehicle draped in a black mourning flag.
Sergeant Johnson said that the car had rammed a tank, forcing soldiers to kill the driver. He did not explain why the front of the car appeared to be perfectly intact.
Earlier today, General Kimmitt told reporters, "Coalition forces feel confident with the situation."
Standing nervously at a checkpoint set up to control access on the main road at 3 p.m., Sgt. Johnson said no US military were in the city, which he said was full of resistance fighters.
Asked if he felt the worst was over, Johnson said, "This is just getting warmed up."