U.S. Marines battling Iraqi insurgents in the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah have
bombed the grounds of a mosque in the city, causing what witnesses say were a
number of civilian casualties. The attack came as U.S. led coalition forces fought
both Sunni and Shiite insurgents across Iraq for a fourth day in battles that
have killed at least 35 coalition soldiers and as many as 200 Iraqis.
Iraqis marched through the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah, where U.S. Marines
spent another day battling anti-American insurgents in a major operation to
hunt down those responsible for the grisly deaths of four American civilians
Reports from the city say a coalition helicopter fired on a mosque filled
with worshippers gathered for afternoon prayer, causing a number of casualties.
But a statement from U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad denied reports of
civilian casualties. U.S. General Mark Kimmitt told CNN there were a number
of what he called enemy casualties after two precision-guided bombs damaged
an outer wall of the mosque after Iraqi insurgents began firing from the compound
and inciting violence.
U.S.-led coalition forces are now involved in the most widespread fighting
in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein a year ago. Troops battled Shiite
militias in half a dozen Iraqi towns and cities from near Kirkuk in the north
to Basra in the south.
While saying U.S. troops still control the country, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon the future of the Iraqi people is at
stake. "We will take robust military action as necessary to deal with the challenges
to Iraq's transition to sovereignty," he said. "There are those who don't want
Iraq to be free, they're trying to stop progress toward freedom and self-government.
We will not allow them to succeed."
But Mr. Rumsfeld says at least one town, Najaf, is no longer under the control
of coalition forces. Troops pulled out ahead of an upcoming Islamic holiday
in order to reduce the possibility of clashes with Shiite pilgrims who are
expected to flock there. "We caution all pilgrims that the holy cities are
potentially dangerous places during this period," he added.
The Shiite unrest gathered force after the U.S. military closed a Shiite
newspaper last month and after influential Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr,
urged his followers to rise up against the U.S.-led occupation.
It's unclear how much support exists for the Shiite rebellion among the Iraqi
population, but it amounts to the most widespread unrest since the end of major
combat operations nearly a year ago. Also unclear is the extent of coalition
casualties in the recent fighting. In one attack alone Tuesday night, at least
12 American Marines were killed when their base in the Sunni stronghold of Ramadi
came under attack.
From his ranch in Texas, President Bush was briefed on the fighting through
a special video hook up with the top American commander in the region. This,
amid growing concern about the war in Washington reflected in these comments
by Senator Joe Biden, another Democrat who is now comparing Iraq to Vietnam. "The
marching that is taking place, the uprising that is occurring in the (Sunni)
triangle as well as that portion of the Shiite community is communicating the
similar fear to the American people: A. We're alone, we're the only ones in
on the deal. B. We don't have a plan," he said.
Amid the worsening security situation, the British government announced Prime
Minister Tony Blair will travel to the United States next week to meet with
President Bush and with United Nations officials to discuss the increasing
violence and the scheduled June 30 handover of Iraqi sovereignty.