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Troops Killed By "Insurgnts" Wearing US Army Uniforms

NY Times | January 22, 2007
DAMIEN CAVE

The United States military said that two marines died Sunday in western Iraq and that an additional seven service members died Saturday. The deaths brought the weekend toll to 27 and made Saturday the third-deadliest day for United States forces since the war here began.

Seven of the deaths announced Sunday, including those of three marines, were caused by “enemy action” in Anbar Province, a restive stronghold of the Sunni insurgency, while another soldier was killed Saturday in Baghdad by a roadside bomb, the military statements said.

New details also emerged about clashes on Saturday in the Shiite holy city of Karbala, which left five Americans dead. Lt. Col. Scott R. Bleichwehl, an American military spokesman, said the gunmen who stormed the provincial governor's office during a meeting between American and local officials were wearing what appeared to be American military uniforms in an effort to impersonate United States soldiers.

The sophisticated attack hinted at what could be a new threat for American troops as they start a fresh security plan centered on small bases in Baghdad's bloodiest neighborhoods, where soldiers will live and work with Iraqi forces. Military officials have said that one of their greatest concerns is that troops will be vulnerable to attack from killers who appear to be colleagues.

It is not uncommon for gunmen to impersonate Iraqi security forces, but this seems to be the first time that attackers have tried to disguise themselves as Americans.

Colonel Bleichwehl declined to provide further details about the Karbala attackers, emphasizing that the attack was still being investigated. But Iraqi officials said the gunmen disguised their intent with uniforms, American flak jackets, guns and a convoy of at least seven GMC sport utility vehicles, which are usually used by American officials in Iraq.

Karbala's provincial governor, Akeel al-Khazaali, said at a news conference that the local police at a checkpoint on the city's edge waved the vehicles through because they believed the convoy held important Americans. At other checkpoints, the police said, the vehicles sped through without stopping. In one case, some of the impersonators fired their weapons, and when they reached the provincial offices, they simply attacked.

The police in Babil said the disguises were imperfect — officers at checkpoints saw that the men were bearded, they said — but sufficient to get the gunmen through a crowded, heavily patrolled city without being searched.

After the attack, which was repelled by American forces, the police said, the gunmen fled north into Babil Province, where several sport utility vehicles matching the description of those used in the attack were found Sunday.

Mr. Khazaali said the identities of the gunmen were unknown. Other Iraqi officials said the clues pointed to Sunni groups based in Elbu Alwan, a Sunni stronghold about 25 miles north of Karbala in Babil Province. Four of the vehicles were found there early Sunday morning, the police said.

They said American and Iraqi troops immediately surrounded the town and were still searching the area on Sunday.

Some police commanders in Babil Province and Mr. Khazaali said one of the recovered vehicles in Elbu Alwan held three American bodies and a fourth soldier who was critically wounded. Mr. Khazaali also said that at least one additional American had been kidnapped. But American military officials said they were not missing anyone, and other police commanders in Babil said the men found in the vehicle were gunmen.

The sport utility vehicles also held clues of the attackers' elaborate efforts to pass as American. One had a sign on its back window warning drivers to stay back, in English and Arabic, the authorities said, a close copy of those used on some official American vehicles. They also said a bag of civilian American clothing, guns and body armor had been found in the vehicles.

The police said two other empty vehicles were found in Sadda, about 15 miles north of Hilla, the major city in the province.

Uncertainties also lingered Sunday about Saturday's deadliest incident, the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter north of Baghdad that left 12 service members dead. Though local authorities said the helicopter was shot down, the military said once again on Sunday that the crash was still under investigation. It provided no information about the cause of the crash.

The deadliest day for American service members in Iraq also involved a helicopter crash. On Jan. 26, 2005, 37 uniformed Americans died, including 31 when a Marine helicopter crashed in a sandstorm. The second-deadliest day was March 23, 2003, when 28 Americans were killed and Pfc. Jessica Lynch, among others, was captured.

In Baghdad, lawmakers loyal to the militant cleric Moktada al-Sadr ended their nearly two-month boycott of Parliament and ferociously lashed out at American officials for their recent arrest of a cleric and senior adviser to Mr. Sadr, Abdel Hadi al-Daraji.

Falah Shashal, one of 30 members in the bloc supporting Mr. Sadr, said the American raid, in which one of Mr. Daraji's guards was killed, “was inhuman and against human rights.”

Two separate car bombs in the capital killed at least seven people and wounded 20 more, an Interior Ministry official said. A roadside bomb killed a British soldier north of Basra in southern Iraq, according to the British military.

In Mosul, the Iraqi police detained three Iranians on Saturday, said Wathiq al-Hamdani, the police chief for Nineveh Province. He said the men were found without passports and claimed that they had permission to travel in an adjacent Kurd-controlled area and were lost. American forces detained six Iranians on Jan. 11 after raiding an office in Erbil, a major city in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In Dibis, in Kirkuk Province, gunmen fired on guards protecting local oil facilities on Sunday, setting one oil well on fire. Iraq's oil minister, Hussein al-Sharistani, said that such attacks appeared to be on the rise. He said at a news conference that 289 Iraqi oil workers had been killed in 2006, and an additional 179 wounded. He called on Iraqis to inform the authorities if they saw anyone “target the interests of Iraq and those who kidnap ministry staff from the work sites to stop Iraq from exporting its oil.”

 

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