[R-G] [com-news] US forces pull out of Karbala mosque, rebels celebrate
ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Fri May 21 04:13:52 MDT 2004
A first clear sign that the stalemate in Karbala may be turning into a
defeat for US forces -- call it "tactical," call it "strategic," call it
what you will. And note the sharp conflict between the occupation
regime's Healthy Ministry and the US general over who was killed in the
slaughter near the Syrian border. Who do you think will turn out to be
U.S. Forces Pull Out From Shiite Mosque
Attack Near Syrian Border Will Be Probed
By Daniel Williams and Sewell Chan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 21, 2004; Page A18
KARBALA, Iraq, May 21 -- U.S. forces withdrew overnight from the
headquarters here of Shiite Muslim fighters that they had taken only
days before, leaving the areas around two major shrines firmly in the
hands of the insurgents.
Earlier, on Thursday in Baghdad, U.S. military officers said that they
would open an investigation into a ground and air assault in western
Iraq that has produced sharply conflicting accounts of whether the
approximately 40 people killed were mostly foreign insurgents or
civilians celebrating a wedding.
Overnight in Karbala, rebels loyal to the Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr
fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons on a company of
U.S. troops as they withdrew from the mosque. There were no American
U.S. Apache helicopters fired on rebel attackers as troops wound out of
the center of the city. Capt. Noel Gorospe, a spokesman for the 1st
Armored Division's Task Force 1-37, said the withdrawal from the mosque
does not mean retreat from the city. "We are certainly not pulling out
of Karbala. We will continue to do normal operations," he said. Gorospe
said U.S. forces will take measures to keep Sadr's militia, the Mahdi
Army, from reoccupying the Mukhaiyam Mosque, which it had used as a
major operations center and weapons depot.
For several weeks, U.S. military commanders said U.S. forces here and in
other cities expected to chip away at the Mahdi Army and isolate Sadr in
Najaf. They had hoped that Shiite religious and political leaders who
cooperate with occupation forces would persuade Sadr to give himself up
and disband his militia. Sadr is wanted by the United States for the
murder last year of a moderate Shiite cleric.
Sadr has refused to surrender and his forces, despite absorbing more
than 100 fatalities in Karbala and scores of others elsewhere, have held
on. "They have shown a remarkable willingness to die," said Col. Peter
Mansoor, commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division.
Witnesses near the village of Makr al-Deeb, in the desert near the
Syrian border, told television crews that a U.S. military aircraft
strafed innocent people, mostly women and children, at a wedding party.
U.S. military officers, however, maintained for a second day Thursday
that the target was a way station used by armed foreign insurgents who
cross the porous border into Iraq.
"How many people go into the middle of the desert 10 miles from the
Syrian border to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?"
asked Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division,
which operates in western Iraq. "Let's not be naive."
The dead included "more than two dozen military-age males," Mattis said
at a news conference in Fallujah.
On Thursday, the Associated Press quoted people who identified
themselves as survivors saying that the attack was directed at a wedding
party of the Bou Fahad tribe, a group whose members often herd animals
into the desert to graze.
By this account, about 25 men had come from the town of Ramadi for the
celebration. A band was playing tribal music Tuesday night when
airplanes were heard circling overhead. Out of fear, the celebration was
called off. Many of the men retired to a tent to sleep, and women and
small children went to a stone house.
The first bomb struck the tent at about 2:45 a.m. Wednesday, people told
the news service. Among the dead was Hussein Ali, a popular wedding
singer. A second bomb struck the house, killing everyone inside. Two
helicopters landed, and about 40 troops searched the area, taking money
and jewelry that guests had brought, and blowing up a pair of houses.
The people denied that fighters were in the area, the Associated Press
In a telephone interview, an Iraqi Health Ministry official said a
hospital in Qaim, the town closest to the site, reported that 42 people
were killed -- 17 men, 11 women and 14 children. One man, four women and
four children were wounded, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The senior military spokesman in Iraq, Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt,
said an investigation was "the only prudent thing to do" because of the
seriousness of the allegations. TV footage from the scene Wednesday
showed several bodies, including those of children, being unloaded from
a truck and villagers digging dirt graves.
The dead included 34 to 35 men and "less than a handful of women,"
Kimmitt said at a news conference in Baghdad. U.S. ground troops stayed
at the site "for an extensive period of time," he said, and did not find
any dead children among the casualties.
Kimmitt said the number of men killed compared with the number of women
killed appeared inconsistent with the makeup of a wedding party. He also
said the time of the attack, around 3 a.m., was "kind of an odd time to
be having a wedding."
Rest of article:
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