November 17, 2004
BAGHDAD, Iraq - A car bomber rammed a U.S. convoy Wednesday north of Baghdad during clashes with militants that killed 10 people, witnesses said. U.S. aircraft launched strikes against insurgents holding out in the southern parts of Fallujah.
Violence continued to erupt across Iraq's Sunni-dominated heartland - part of a spike in clashes which have made November one of the bloodiest months of the Iraqi insurgency.
The car bomb and clashes in Beiji, a city 155 miles north of the capital, also left 20 others wounded, witnesses said. It was unclear whether there were any American casualties or how many of the 10 deaths were a result of the car bomb or fighting.
Beiji is the site of Iraq's largest oil refinery and a major power station.
In Fallujah, heavy machine-gun fire and explosions rang out in south-central parts of Fallujah as U.S. Marines hunted fighters still in the turbulent city. In the northern Jolan neighborhood, U.S. Marines fought insurgents who officers said had sneaked back into the city by swimming across the Euphrates River.
Bullets snapped overhead as Iraqi body-collection workers supervised by the Marines sought cover behind walls and in buildings. After 15 minutes of fighting, three rebels were dead and one Marine lightly injured in the hand, officers said.
The rush of warplanes streaking through the low-lying clouds shook the city and blasts sent smoke into the sky. The U.S. military said that airstrikes Wednesday were concentrated in the southwestern part of Fallujah, destroying enemy positions.
On Saturday, the U.S. military had declared the one-time rebel stronghold completely occupied but not subdued after a nearly weeklong battle. But pockets of insurgents remain, and U.S. and Iraqi forces are still fighting.
"Even as we start Fallujah's reconstruction, the fighting is continuing, as you can hear," Capt. Alex Henegar, a civil affairs officer attached to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, told reporters Wednesday as heavy gunfire and grenade explosions sounded in the distance.
Four trucks of humanitarian aid for Fallujah people crossed the borders from Kuwait into Iraq on Wednesday, said Dr. Haithan Issa, chairman of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society in Basra. The assistance, a gift from the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society, included food, medicine and bedcovers.
Fallujah residents who fled into neighboring Ramadi reported that local insurgent leaders Abdullah al-Janabi and Omar Hadid remained fighting inside the city.
In the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, masked men clutching rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles took up positions on several streets and alleys in eastern and southeastern Ramadi, residents said.
South of Baghdad, a roadside bomb detonated Wednesday near an Iraqi National Guard convoy in the insurgent hotspot of Iskandariyah, killing two guardsmen and wounding three others, police and hospital officials said.
In the central city of Baqouba, insurgents attacked police headquarters with gunfire late Tuesday, then with a mortar attack Wednesday, though no casualties were reported, police said.
On Monday, U.S. troops and Iraqi forces fought insurgents in pitched battles that left at least 20 enemy fighters dead in Baqouba. One Iraqi policeman and seven civilians were also killed. The Monday clashes left 15 others wounded, including four American 1st Infantry Division soldiers, the military said.
Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces, backed by U.S. Marines, freed a captive Iraqi truck driver during a raid south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The rescued hostage, who was not identified, was taken to a nearby U.S. base, where he received medical treatment before being released.
Polish troops in the central holy city of Karbala handed over their base Wednesday to Iraqi police authorities as scheduled and returned to Diwaniya, police said.
In Baghdad, some 3,000 protesters peacefully demanded the release of seven followers of Shiite Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hassani, who had been detained by U.S. forces in the past week.
On Wednesday, the U.S. military said Wednesday that the strife-hit city of Mosul appeared calmer after operations to restore control in the western part of the city, with only a handful of isolated attacks with small arms fire.
"It's been quiet overnight. We'll continue with operations to clear out the last remaining pockets of the insurgency," said Capt. Angela Bowman, with Task Force Olympia.
The U.S.-led offensive is aimed at seizing control of the city 225 miles north of Baghdad, where gunmen stormed police stations, bridges and political offices last week.
The U.S. military said it was investigating the fatal shooting of a wounded "enemy combatant" by a Marine in a Fallujah mosque over the weekend. The inquiry was begun after videotaped pool pictures taken Saturday by the U.S. network NBC showed the incident during an operation of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
The Marine was removed from the battlefield pending the results of the investigation, the military said.
Elsewhere, hope faded for kidnapped aid worker Margaret Hassan after Al-Jazeera television announced it had obtained a video showing a masked man shooting a blindfolded woman in the head. Hassan's family in London said they believed the longtime director of CARE's operations in Iraq was the victim.
The 59-year-old Hassan, abducted in Baghdad on Oct. 19 by armed gunmen, was the most prominent of more than 170 foreigners kidnapped in Iraq this year. Her captors issued videos showing her pleading for Britain to withdraw its troops from Iraq and calling for the release of female Iraqi prisoners.