Friday, March 28, 2008

U.S. military joins Iraqi Army in Basra assault

By Erica Goode
Friday, March 28, 2008

BAGHDAD: American aircraft hit targets in Basra late Thursday and Friday, joining for the first time an onslaught by Iraqi security forces intended to oust Shiite militias in the southern port city, and indicating that the Iraqi military has not, on its own, been able to rout the militias, despite repeated statements by American and Iraqi officials that its fighting capabilities have vastly improved.

In Baghdad, there was an exchange of fire between American aircraft and Mahdi army fighters in the Sadr City neighborhood, the capital's largest Shiite militia stronghold. The Iraqi police said an American helicopter opened fire early Friday in Sadr City, killing five people.

The American military confirmed the strike, saying the helicopter was called in after troops on the ground were shot at and requested air support. The Iraqi police also reported a second, later strike by a fixed-wing American aircraft that they said killed four people.

Amid the violence in Baghdad, rocket or mortar fire struck the office of one of two Iraqi vice presidents, Tariq al-Hashimi, in the Green Zone, killing a security guard. It was not immediately clear whether Hashimi was in his office at the time or whether he was wounded in the attack.
The strikes by American warplanes in Basra, one on a militia stronghold and a second on a mortar team that was attacking Iraqi forces, were made at the request of the Iraqi Army, said Major Tom Holloway, a spokesman for the British Army in Basra.

Holloway said that the Americans, who along with the British have been flying surveillance runs over Basra since the latest fighting in the city began this week, conducted the air attack because the Iraqi security forces did not have aircraft capable of making such strikes.

"I think the point here is actually that the Iraqis are capable, they are strong and they have been engaging successfully," Holloway said.

The strike on the mortar team was made at about 9 p.m. Thursday by an U.S. Navy fixed wing plane, U.S. military officials said.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who on Wednesday set a 72-hour deadline for the militias in Basra to lay down their arms or face harsh consequences, said Friday that cash rewards would be offered to anyone in Basra who turned in heavy weapons or artillery. Maliki, who has staked his political credibility on the Basra campaign, said the cash offer would extend until April 8.
In Washington, President George W. Bush repeated his support for Maliki, describing the offensive as "a defining moment" in the history of a free Iraq and a test for its government - a test that Bush said it would pass successfully.

The United States will continue to help the Iraqi forces if asked, the president said, but the Iraqis "are in the lead."

"This is going to take a while," Bush said at a White House appearance with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia. "But it is a necessary part in the development of a free society."
Bush said the willingness of Maliki's Shiite-dominated government to use force to quell violence by Shiite militias showed that the prime minister believed "in even-handed justice," a pillar of any free society.

On Friday, clashes began around 4:30 p.m. in several neighborhoods of Basra between Iraqi security forces and militia fighters belonging to the Mahdi army, the armed wing of the political movement led by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr. Fighting also continued in the Qurna district, 65 kilometers, or 40 miles, northwest of Basra.

The strike on the office of Hashimi in Baghdad was confirmed by Hashimi's daughter and chief secretary, Lubna Hashimi. Weeping, she said: "We have just been hit by two mortars. One of my colleagues died at once."

She added that at least three workers in the office had been wounded. Other accounts put the number of wounded at more than eight.

Clashes occurred in other Shiite-dominated neighborhoods in Baghdad, including the Topchi and Hurriya districts and in Khadimiya, the site of an important shrine.

Contributing to this article were David Stout in Washington and employees of
The New York Times in Baghdad and Basra.

Marine charges dropped

The Marine Corps on Friday dropped all charges against a lance corporal who was accused of involuntary manslaughter in a squad's killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha in 2005, The Associated Press reported from Camp Pendleton, California.

The Marines dropped the case against Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum, 26, as jury selection was about to begin for his court-martial at Camp Pendleton. He had also been charged with reckless endangerment and aggravated assault.

The case against Tatum stemmed from a squad's assault after to a roadside bombing of a convoy that killed one marine and wounded two others.

The government says a sergeant and another marine shot five men at the scene and the squad leader then ordered his men to clear homes with grenades and gunfire, killing unarmed civilians.

No comments:

Blog Archive