U.S., Iraqi police dispute death toll in ambushes

الكاتب : تميم العابد   المشاهدات : 447   الردود : 0    ‏2003-12-02
      مشاركة رقم : 1    ‏2003-12-02
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    SAMARRA, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. and Iraqi authorities disagreed Monday on how many Iraqis were killed when U.S. forces repelled simultaneous ambushes during a currency-exchange operation at two banks in Samarra this past weekend.

    The battles were described as intense, with small-arms fire escalating into rocket-propelled grenade and mortar attacks. (Staff sergeant: Samarra battle was 'extremely scary')

    "There I am in the middle of a huge firefight with bullets and mortars and RPGs falling all around me," recalled Staff Sgt. Bruce Jones. (Gallery: Aftermath of the Samarra firefight)

    Samarra is about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

    U.S. military intelligence officials on the scene said 46 insurgents were killed, 18 wounded and 11 taken prisoner. Those numbers differed slightly from what was reported in Baghdad, with coalition spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt saying 54 Iraqis were killed in the battle.

    Kimmitt said five U.S. soldiers and one member of the currency-exchange team were wounded in the battle, none with life-threatening injuries, and said both currency-exchange operations were concluded successfully.

    Kimmitt said the casualty reports were "visual battlefield reports ... from soldiers involved in the engagement.

    "That's why we have said all of these are estimated," he said.

    Iraqi police in Samarra said they could confirm only eight deaths, including an elderly Iranian man believed to have been on a pilgrimage to a shrine in the town. The Iraqis said at least 50 people were wounded.

    The general said the discrepancy could be because "the enemy probably would have pulled the bodies back and taken them to wherever his initial locations were, but that's only a speculation."

    Kimmitt said one security force was hit by two roadside bombs, slightly wounding three soldiers, on its way into Samarra about 11 a.m. to take up positions ahead of the currency-exchange team. When the exchange team arrived, small-arms fire erupted.

    Across town, the security detail at another bank encountered a nearly identical attack, including at least 12 armed attackers who were seen running out of and firing from a nearby mosque.

    Capt. Andy Deponai, who led the soldiers guarding the exchange teams, said more ambush points lined their routes into and out of Samarra. He said the attackers appeared to have been divided into two groups of 30-40 fighters each, and further "broke themselves down into squad- and team-sized units."

    Military: No known link to 'Saddam's Martyrs'
    Kimmitt denied that such coordinated attacks indicated further sophistication on the part of the insurgents.

    "Any enemy that is looking at eight tanks, four Bradley fighting vehicles and 93 coalition soldiers and still decides to fight is making a dreadful mistake," the general said. "I wouldn't consider that sophisticated at all."

    Kimmitt also played down reports that some of the attackers wore the uniforms of the Fedayeen Saddam -- "Saddam's Martyrs" -- a paramilitary group loyal to deposed Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein.

    "Some of them wore clothing that was consistent with those uniforms that had been worn by Saddam Fedayeen in the past," he said, "but we have not established linkage with these attackers and any organization."

    Some residents of Samarra were angry about the attack, accusing soldiers of being the aggressors, firing indiscriminately and hitting civilians.

    Other residents described what they called "resistance fighters" attacking the U.S. troops, who responded. Those fighters, the residents said, had been preparing for this attack since a previous currency exchange last month. Currency exchanges involve replacing old, easily counterfeited currency with new bills by the coalition-imposed deadline of January 15.

    Bounties and chaos
    U.S. officials have suggested that the old dinars and U.S. dollars have been used by insurgents to pay bounties for attacks on coalition troops.

    Replacing the old dinars -- which feature images of Saddam -- is crucial to establishing economic stability in Iraq, U.S. officials have said.

    Speaking to supporters in Dearborn, Michigan, on Monday, President Bush vowed that the United States would not let insurgents in Iraq deter U.S. forces from their goal.

    "We are confronting that danger in Iraq, where Saddam holdouts and foreign terrorists are desperately trying to throw the country into chaos," he said.

    "They know that the advance of freedom in Iraq, in the heart of the Middle East, would be a major defeat for the cause of terror. The coalition of killers, the collection of killers, is trying to shake the will of America. America will not be intimidated by a bunch of thugs and assassins."

    Other nations have joined the U.S.-led effort "because they know a free Iraq will make us all more secure," Bush said.

    The foiled ambushes followed a deadly weekend for the United States and its coalition partners in Iraq: Attacks killed seven Spanish intelligence agents; two Japanese diplomats and their Iraqi driver; two South Korean electrical contractors; and a Colombian working for a U.S. company. (Gallery: Two bad days; Coalition partners remain defiant; Special report: Coalition fatalities)

    Those deaths were in addition to the loss of 100 coalition troops in November, most of them Americans and 17 of them Italians -- more than were killed during any month of major conflict. (Deaths by month; Breaking the news to families)

    Other developments
    • A U.S. soldier was killed early Monday west of Baghdad near Habbaniya, when a Task Force All American patrol was ambushed, U.S. Central Command said. Three Iraqis captured in connection with the attack were being questioned, the command said.

    • The Iraqi Governing Council has formed a committee to study the process for directly electing delegates to a constitutional convention -- which is aimed at drafting a new Iraqi constitution by March 2005, coalition spokesman Dan Senor said Monday.

    • Russian President Vladimir Putin , in a phone conversation Monday with Bush, called for "the earliest possible elections" in Iraq," according to Putin's press service. He also urged the "transfer of power to a new Iraqi leadership that is recognized by the whole people."