- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

BAGHDAD — U.S. troops stepped up their campaign against Iraqi insurgents, killing seven persons preparing to rocket an American base near Tikrit and dropping satellite-guided bombs on a target near the Syrian border, the military said yesterday.

A leading Shi’ite cleric warned the Americans that attempting a military solution to Iraq’s crisis “will only make things worse.” Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Taqi al-Modaresi also criticized the U.S.-led coalition for failing to usher in democracy seven months after the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Iraq’s growing lawlessness claimed more victims. A 1st Armored Division soldier was killed yesterday and two others were wounded in a roadside bombing in central Baghdad, the military said.

An American civilian contractor was killed and another wounded when gunmen attacked a convoy Thursday near Balad, 45 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

The victims were not identified.

In the south yesterday, gunmen fired on jeeps carrying Portuguese journalists, wounding one reporter and kidnapping another, Portuguese media reported. It was the first abduction of a journalist since the occupation began in May.

Distant explosions could be heard after sundown in central Baghdad, and the 1st Armored Division said they were part of “pre-emptive mortar fire” against insurgent positions.

A division spokesman said aircraft were launched to carry out some of the strikes. He would not specify the targets but said the operation was ongoing late yesterday.

The seven Iraqi insurgents died Thursday night when a U.S. Apache helicopter fired on suspected Saddam supporters preparing to rocket an American military base 20 miles north of Tikrit, the 4th Infantry Division said. U.S. soldiers later found hundreds of rockets and missiles there.

Along the Syrian border, U.S. Air Force F-16 fighter jets dropped two satellite-guided bombs Thursday night on a three-story building in Husayba used by insurgents to store ammunition and launch attacks, the 82nd Airborne Division said. American officials have long accused Syria and Iran of allowing fighters to enter Iraq and attack the coalition.

Elsewhere, three 82nd Airborne paratroopers were wounded Thursday night in a rocket attack near Fallujah, the division said. And three soldiers were wounded yesterday when a bomb they were trying to defuse exploded in northwestern Baghdad, witnesses said.

U.S. troops blocked the road for about an hour and called over loudspeakers for Iraqis to help them capture the bombers. Troops also handed out leaflets offering a $10,000 reward to anybody with information about insurgents.

In the north, soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division captured 14 “suspected terrorists,” including eight who belonged to a cell whose leader plotted to kill a top coalition official, the military said.

Ayatollah al-Modaresi warned “the military solution will make the crisis worse,” presumably by alienating Iraqis. The ayatollah, in a statement released by his office, called for more democracy in Iraq and criticized the Americans and their allies for failing to live up to their promises to build a democratic Iraq.

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