KHALDIYAH, Iraq – Iraqi insurgents ambushed U.S. convoys with roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades Monday, triggering an eight-hour battle in which the American military sent in fighter jets, bombers, helicopters and tanks. One U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded.
And in northern Iraq, U.S. soldiers launched two dozen raids, arresting 92 people and seizing weapons and ammunition. One of the raids involved the largest joint operation between U.S. military police and American-trained Iraqi police; about 200 Iraqi officers took part.
The two ambushes hit U.S. military convoys about 9 a.m. in the Sunni Muslim towns of Habaniyah and Khaldiyah, six miles apart along the Euphrates River and about 50 miles west of the Baghdad.
As the major firefight raged in Khaldiyah, it seemed as though the Americans were pinned down, with the insurgents opening fire each time the U.S. patrol tried to withdraw. Eventually commanders called in jet fighters, A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft, helicopters and tanks.
The attackers apparently hid in trees and shrubs lining the dirt road where the roadside bombs left four big craters.
Reporters saw four badly damaged farm compounds in the al-Qurtan neighborhood on the north side of Khaldiyah, scene of several previous firefights between the U.S. military and guerrilla fighters. Angry residents cursed at reporters who entered the fire zone after the battle.
Civilians, including women and children, fled. One Iraqi man, running away with his wife, three other women, a nephew and five children, said many homes were damaged. He refused to give his name.
“Is this the freedom that we were promised?” he asked. “I had to get my family out. … The helicopters were firing almost nonstop. My 7-year-old is too young to hate but how can he not hate them (the Americans) after this?”
Lt. Col. Jeff Swisher, of the 1st Infantry Division, defended the use of force.
“American forces are here to provide security for the Iraqi people. If we are attacked, we are a well-trained and disciplined force, and we will respond,” Swisher said.
“At 9 this morning an American patrol was ambushed by IEDs (roadside bombs), RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and small arms fire. The patrol returned fire and support was called in,” Swisher said.
He said two soldiers were wounded and a civilian was hurt in the battle, from which U.S. forces did not begin withdrawing until about 5:30 p.m.
About 10 minutes after the ambush in Khaldiyah, a homemade bomb exploded as a U.S. convoy passed in Habaniyah, killing one soldier and wounding another, said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. George Krivo.
Six soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded Sunday in nearby Fallujah in another roadside bombing, U.S. officials said.
Meanwhile, soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division launched two dozen raids in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, and other areas in the north of the country, arresting 92 people and seizing weapons and ammunition.
The operations, which ended Monday morning, were designed to “break the back of the Fedayeen,” said Lt. Col. David Poirier, who commands the 720th Military Police Battalion based in Fort Hood, Texas.
“The people we went after are the trigger-pullers attacking the coalition,” Poirier said. “We want to send the message that if you pull the trigger on the coalition, we will get you.”
Of the 92 arrested, four were taken into custody in the joint U.S.-Iraqi raid.
Raids in the 4th Division sector have intensified after Iraqi resistance fighters shot and killed three Americans in an ambush two weeks ago just outside Tikrit. In a coordinated series of attacks and ambushes against U.S. forces last week, nine Iraqi fighters also were killed.
In another incident, 4th ID troops late Sunday killed one Iraqi and captured three others in a shootout nine miles south of Balad, U.S. officials said. In the car, troops found two M-16 rifles that belonged to two American soldiers who were abducted and killed in June, officials said.
In a village near Kirkuk, 145 miles northeast of Baghdad, U.S. troops were dispatched when 200 people marched on a government building, according to Maj. Gordon Tate of the 4th Infantry Division.
Arab satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera reported U.S. troops fired on the crowd, killing a 10-year-old boy. Tate said American forces did not shoot although someone in the crowd did fire. The Americans said they did not know how the boy was killed.
As the fighting raged and the number of soldiers to die in Iraq since the war rose to 305, European foreign ministers called for the United States to cede power to an independent, sovereign Iraqi government “as soon as feasible.”
At their monthly meeting, the 15 European Union (news – web sites) foreign ministers said a new U.N. Security Council resolution was essential to formalize a transfer of power from the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council and that the United Nations (news – web sites) “should play a vital role” in Iraq’s reconstruction. The ministers were unable to agree on a timetable, however.