- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

From combined dispatches

BAGHDAD — U.S. troops backed by warplanes killed 25 guerrillas in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul yesterday after facing a fierce coordinated assault by two suicide bombers and dozens of insurgents, the military said.

In Baghdad itself, militants ambushed an elite Iraqi police unit in a neighborhood known for its loyalty to ousted dictator Saddam Hussein, killing 29 persons, most of them civilians.

South of the capital, U.S. forces launched a new offensive against insurgents in an area dubbed the “triangle of death.”

The battle in Mosul began when a suicide bomber detonated a fuel truck outside a house in Mosul that has been used as a combat outpost by U.S. troops since last month.

Lt. Col. Paul Hastings, U.S. military spokesman in Mosul, said a patrol responding to the blast was attacked by a second suicide car bomb, and also had to deal with several roadside bombs before reaching the combat outpost.

Around 50 insurgents then attacked the outpost with assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, Col. Hastings said.

“Close air support was called in. Initial estimates are 25 enemy killed,” Col. Hastings said.

He said 15 U.S. troops were wounded in the clashes.

The Baghdad ambush took place late Tuesday night when militants lured Iraqi police into a booby-trapped house rigged with nearly a ton of explosives.

The blast came as a contingent of special police and national guards were about to raid a house after receiving an anonymous tip. It killed 22 civilians and seven officers, and damaged a dozen nearby homes, a police spokesman said.

Between 1,700 to 1,800 pounds of explosives were used in the blast, the U.S. military said. American and Iraqi troops searched the rubble for survivors through the night and rescued one civilian.

The anti-insurgency drive south of Baghdad focused on areas such as Mahmoudiya, a town about 25 miles south of the capital, said Brig. Gen. Jeffery Hammond.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have come under repeated attacks by car bombs, rockets, and small arms fire in the “triangle of death.” The latest operation followed a weeklong campaign in November and early December to root out insurgents in the area.

Violence throughout Iraq has escalated sharply since the fall of Fallujah in November. The vast majority of the estimated 6,000 guerrillas based there apparently slipped out to northern Iraq and the area south of Baghdad, which includes Mahmoudiya.

“We believe that many insurgents that left Fallujah settled throughout areas in Baghdad and specifically in southern sector of Baghdad and north of Babylon,” Gen. Hammond said.

Top U.S. commanders have acknowledged that the insurgent offensive is expected to continue at least until the Jan. 30 elections.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s interim government sought to boost the efficiency of its security forces by merging its 35,000-man paramilitary national guard and the nascent armed forces.

The move appeared to be an effort to streamline Iraq’s security apparatus ahead of the elections and bring its forces under centralized command.

Also yesterday, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said Saddam will likely be brought to trial early next year though no date has been announced.

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