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March 29, 2003
 
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(AP Photo)
Iraqi Suicide Bomber Kills 4 U.S. Troops
Suicide Bomber Said to Be Iraqi Officer Kills 4 U.S. Troops; Coalition Pounds Republican Guard

The Associated Press


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A suicide bomber identified as an Iraqi army officer killed four American soldiers Saturday, and Iraq threatened more such attacks. Coalition forces pounded Republican Guard positions in preparation for an all-out push toward Baghdad.

"This is just the beginning," said Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan, after the suicide bombing at a checkpoint in south-central Iraq. He said such attacks would become "routine military policy."

"We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land," Ramadan said.

It was the first suicide bombing against U.S. or British forces since they invaded Iraq. Iraqi dissidents have claimed that Saddam Hussein opened a training camp for Arab volunteers willing to carry out suicide attacks against coalition troops.

Capt. Andrew Wallace said the slain Army soldiers were part of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, manning a checkpoint on a highway north of Najaf. A taxi stopped near the checkpoint, the driver waved for help, and the car exploded as the soldiers approached, Wallace told Associated Press Television News.

Ramadan identified the bomber as Ali Jaafar al-Noamani, a noncommissioned army officer and father of several children. A detailed statement on the bombing would be issued later, he said.

U.S. commanders said the attack would not force the coalition to make operational changes.

"We continue to place force protection as our highest priority, but that doesn't mean we're going to back into little holes and hide," said Col. Will Grimsley, commander of the 1st Brigade.

Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart, Jr., the U.S. Central Command's director of operations, said the attack was "a symbol of an organization that's starting to get a little bit desperate."

Renuart also said the United States has restricted the launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles over Saudi Arabia after complaints about errant strikes. He said some missiles had fallen onto Saudi territory, and U.S. experts would conduct a technical review before conferring with Saudi officials on whether the launches would resume.

In Baghdad, Iraq's Information Ministry building was damaged in a pre-dawn U.S. missile attack. The building remained intact, but satellite dishes were destroyed, and Information Ministry officials said the 10th floor which housed an Internet server was gutted.

Elsewhere in the city, black-clad mourners gathered at a marketplace where Iraqi officials said dozens of civilians were killed by a coalition bomb. But despite still-smoking fires and intermittent explosions, Saturday saw the heaviest traffic on the streets of Baghdad since the war broke out. Many shops were open in the commercial districts and thousands of residents were on the streets.

In Kuwait, meanwhile, authorities said Iraq fired a missile of its own that damaged a popular shopping mall in Kuwait City.

Ground combat continued in southern and central Iraq, while U.S. forces pressed ahead with air and missile strikes aimed at weakening Republican Guard positions defending Baghdad.

The latest strikes included attacks by Apache helicopter gunships of the 101st Airborne Division. U.S. warplanes launching from the Gulf were also pounding the Republican Guard, with scores of flights scheduled for later Saturday and into Sunday morning, senior Navy officers said.

Some U.S. combat units were slowing their advance while supply and communications support is beefed up, but coalition officials said there was no broad order for a pause in the push toward Baghdad.

"It is purely a case of shaping the battlefield, getting our troops equipped and in the right place for the next part of the campaign," said Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a spokesman for coalition forces.

Thus far, according to coalition officials, the frequent attacks on supply lines by Iraqi paramilitary fighters have not derailed preparations for the expected all-out assault on Republican Guard divisions near Baghdad. But Lockwood acknowledged that the aggressive paramilitary activity had not been anticipated by U.S. and British war planners.

"What we've encountered is yes, something slightly different: paramilitary forces that weren't in the war-game profile," Lockwood said.

In Kuwait City, officials said an Iraqi missile exploded early Saturday on a pier near a multilevel seafront shopping center, blasting out windows and causing two minor injuries. It was first missile to hit Kuwait City since U.S. troops based there invaded neighboring Iraq on March 20.

Iraqi authorities had no immediate comment on the Kuwaiti allegation, but said the explosion Friday evening at the Al-Nasr market in Baghdad was evidence that U.S. and British forces were targeting civilian areas.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said President Bush should be charged with war crimes in connection with the civilian deaths.

The U.S. Central Command said it was trying to determine what caused the market explosion, but repeated its denials that Iraqi civilian neighborhoods are targeted.

Overall, Iraq claims more than 4,000 civilians have been killed or wounded since the war began. In Baghdad alone, 68 people were killed and 107 injured late Friday and early Saturday in the market explosion and other blasts, al-Sahhaf said.

South of Baghdad, Marines battled Iraqi fighters in and around the Euphrates River city of Nasiriyah, at a junction of highways leading to Baghdad.

Renuart confirmed reports that U.S. forces had found the bodies of some troops in shallow graves near Nasiriyah and said forensic investigators were going to the grave sites.

The Army's 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers in the area last Sunday. At least two 507th soldiers were killed; the Defense Department said eight more were missing and five were taken prisoner.

"We will also approach it from an aspect to ensure there were no war crimes committed in their deaths," Renuart said.

In the besieged southern city of Basra, American warplanes firing laser-guided missiles destroyed a building where some 200 paramilitary fighters from the ruling Baath party were believed to be meeting Friday, the Central Command said.

Renuart said coalition forces have now secured an oil refinery near Basra, one of three in Iraq. It is considered a crucial component in plans to keep Iraq's oil industry functioning.

British forces are surrounding Basra Iraq's second-largest city, with a population of 1.3 million and want to open the way for badly needed humanitarian aid. They have yet to launch a full-scale assault, but darted in with tanks Saturday to destroy two statues of Saddam.

Also Saturday, state television reported that Saddam has ordered that coalition soldiers who fall in battle be buried in accordance with their faiths. Since the war broke out, Saddam has been going out of his way to underline Iraq's intention to abide by international conventions and to deny that his forces possess weapons of mass destruction.


photo credit and caption:
Soldiers of the British 1st Batallion Parachute Regiment look at a Chinook helicopter take off during operations in southern Iraq, Saturday March 29, 2003. As some units on the field have been ordered an operational pause for a chance to resupply, U.S. and British aircraft and missile strikes continue to try to wear down the fighters protecting the approaches to Baghdad: Saddam Hussein's Republican guard. (AP Photo/Chris Ison/POOL)

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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