- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2003

KHALDIYAH, Iraq — U.S. soldiers started two dozen raids in northern Iraq yesterday, including the largest joint operation with American-trained Iraqi police, arresting 92 persons and seizing weapons and ammunition.

West of the capital, Baghdad, Iraqi insurgents ambushed U.S. convoys with roadside bombs and rocket-propelled grenades, 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.

Soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division started the raids in Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, 120 miles north of Baghdad, and other areas in the north of the country. The operations, which ended yesterday 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, referring to paramilitary forces loyal to Saddam Hussein.

“The people we went after are the trigger-pullers attacking the coalition,” Col. 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 in which 200 Iraqi officers participated.

Raids in the 4th Division sector have intensified after Iraqi resistance fighters fatally shot three Americans in an ambush two weeks ago just outside Tikrit. Nine Iraqi fighters also were killed in a coordinated series of attacks and ambushes against U.S. forces last week.

The two ambushes yesterday 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 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 warplanes, 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.

Lt. Col. Jeff Swisher of the 1st Infantry Division defended the use of force. “If we are attacked, we are a well-trained and disciplined force, and we will respond,” he said.

He said two soldiers were wounded and a civilian was hurt in the battle.

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.

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