McKiernan: Attacks in Iraq show war is not over
BAGHDAD, Iraq — President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq on May 1, but the hostile-fire deaths of nine soldiers this week are still considered combat actions, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Iraq said Thursday.
“The war has not ended,” Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, commander of Coalition Joint Task Force-7, said during a press conference in Baghdad.
“These are not criminal activities, but combat activities and we’ll address them with every means we can.”
The attacks included:
• A soldier was killed Thursday by hostile fire while traveling on a main supply route northwest of Baghdad.
• Two soldiers were killed and nine wounded in Fallujah on Tuesday morning when they were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms from someone firing from inside a mosque.
• On Monday, one soldier was killed and three others injured when a Humvee ran over a land mine or unexploded ordnance on Highway 8, the main route to Baghdad International Airport.
• Also on Monday, a soldier was killed and another wounded when a 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment convoy was attacked near Hadithah, a town about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad. The attackers used small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.
The soldiers’ names have not been released.
McKiernan said he has not determined a specific pattern in the attacks, but said the work is that of Saddam Hussein loyalists.
In Fallujah, he said, remnants of Sad- dam’s special forces brigade are suspected in Tuesday’s attack. Attacks elsewhere are from “localized” forces still loyal to the fallen regime, McKiernan said.
“There are still some Baathist, Fedayeen and regime security holdouts,” he said.
“They know they don’t have a future and that may be one reason” for the attacks, he said.
There also appear to be some foreign elements plotting against American forces. Soldiers raided a Palestinian diplomatic compound in Baghdad this week, detaining seven Palestinians and one Syrian, McKiernan said. A cache of AK-47 rifles, grenades and other weapons, and a book on terrorism also were seized. The men were linked to a recent attack against U.S. soldiers, he said.
U.S. forces already were beefing up security patrols in Baghdad before this latest spate of attacks. The number of military police patrolling the city was doubled to 4,000, and 18 Iraqi police stations are now open and investigating criminal reports.
In addition, 3rd Infantry Division troops are still on the ground, even though the final 3rd ID brigade was officially relieved by a 1st Armored Division brigade this week.
“[The 3rd ID’s] withdrawal was always a conditional event,” McKiernan said. “Now that 1st AD has assumed responsibility in Baghdad, if we need to support some of our combat power elsewhere with 3rd ID forces, we certainly will.”
McKiernan would not specify how forces are changing operations to deal with the continuing terrorist threats.
A 1st AD spokesman said some visible examples of added measures are new posts on bridges, after a series of incidents when attackers tossed explosives on troop trucks passing underneath. The airport road is now being secured by additional Bradley fighting vehicles and M-113 troop transports, Maj. Scott Slaten said Thursday.
U.S. forces also are working to remove weapons from the streets. Sunday marks the first day of a weapons amnesty program in which U.S. forces will accept arms from Iraqis without penalty. People who need to secure their homes and businesses will be able to keep a weapon at that location only if they have a permit, McKiernan said.
Soldier hurt by celebratory gunfire
KIRKUK, Iraq – A U.S. soldier was slightly injured Wednesday night by celebratory gunfire when Kurds began rejoicing the results of an election that seated a Kurdish mayor in the city’s first election in more than three decades, a military official said.
The soldier, whose name is being withheld until next of kin can be notified and whose unit was not available by press time, was hit by a bullet that lodged near his armpit, said Maj. Robert Gowan, a spokesman with the 173rd out of Vicenza, Italy.
An X-ray of the injury revealed a “nearly pristine bullet clearly lodged near the armpit, Gowan said. The soldier has some minor discomfort, and will lose no range of motion, he said. Doctors will not remove the bullet because they don’t want to cause further damage.
At the elections Wednesday, local leaders representing both the community at large and four ethnic factions, who now make up a 30-member provincial council, elected their first mayor, marking the historical day as the birth of democracy in Iraq.