Street Battle Shatters Iraq City

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Washington Times
November 19, 2006
Pg. 1

By Thomas Wagner, Associated Press
BAGHDAD -- Iraqi and American forces fought Sunni insurgents in an hourslong street battle yesterday in the increasingly violent city of Baqouba, as residents retreated indoors under the rattle of automatic weapons fire and the blasts of rocket-propelled grenades.
City police said at least 18 persons were killed and 19 wounded.
Nationwide, police and morgue officials said the death toll was 53, including those killed in Baqouba.
The city was chaotic after the fighting, and police said it was not known how many of the dead were Sunni insurgents. The U.S. reported no dead or wounded among American forces.
Violence in Baquoba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, has soared in recent weeks, particularly after a major battle between Sunnis and Shi'ites in the nearby city of Balad last month. Scores of civilians in Baqouba have been killed in the past two weeks alone.
Elsewhere, coalition forces raided a Shi'ite militia stronghold in Baghdad searching for dozens of Iraqi hostages and combed through a rural area in southern Iraq, where four American security contractors and an Austrian were kidnapped. Both efforts appeared to come up empty-handed.
Iraqi soldiers backed by U.S. helicopters swept through the Sadr City section of the capital after intelligence indicated that an armed group was holding some of the scores of Iraqis who were snatched from a Higher Education Ministry office building in Baghdad on Tuesday, the military said.
U.S. officials said the raid was conducted to rescue captives and disrupt kidnapping and insurgent cells. Asked if any hostages had been found, the military would only say: "No individuals were killed, injured or detained."
Iraqi police said the raid began at 2:30 a.m., swept through two sections of Sadr City and wounded three Iraqi civilians.
On Tuesday, gunmen dressed in Interior Ministry commando uniforms abducted about 150 men from the central Baghdad office that handles academic grants and exchanges. The men were handcuffed and driven away in about 20 pickup trucks. About half were released on Tuesday night and Wednesday, a government minister said.
A Sunni who said he was among the hostages freed claimed the kidnappers broke his arm. He said he saw them kill at least three hostages after taking them to empty houses in the Sadr City Shi'ite slum.
The mass kidnapping was widely thought to have been the work of Mahdi's Army, the heavily armed militia of the anti-American Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Sadr City has long been a Shi'ite militia stronghold.
A rogue cell from the Mahdi's Army militia also is suspected of having captured an Iraqi-American soldier last month. Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a 41-year-old reservist from Ann Arbor, Mich., was visiting his Iraqi wife in Baghdad on Oct. 23 when gunmen handcuffed him and took him away.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday reiterated Washington's determination to support the "small seeds" of Iraqi democracy, but she said that success depends on the government and Iraqis themselves.
It is up to Iraqis to "face up to their differences and realize that they only have one future, and that's a future together," Miss Rice said at the Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam. "They don't have a future if they try and stay apart."
In western Baghdad, gunmen killed a senior official with the largest Shi'ite political group along with his wife, the latest member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq to die in an attack.
In southern Iraq, coalition forces searched yesterday for five security guards -- four Americans and an Austrian -- who have been missing since Thursday when a large convoy of trucks escorted by the Crescent Security Group was hijacked on a highway near Safwan, a largely Sunni Arab city of 200,000 people on the Kuwait border.
Suspected militiamen dressed in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed the convoy, taking 19 of its trucks and 14 hostages -- the five security guards and nine foreign truck drivers who were later released.
Islamic Companies, a previously unknown group, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, according to an Iranian-run Arabic-language satellite news station. It said the group released a videotaped message saying it was holding the five men and demanded the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and the release of all prisoners being held there.