- The Washington Times - Monday, May 24, 2004

KARBALA, Iraq — U.S. forces yesterday marked their victory over a radical Shi’ite militia in Karbala by walking the streets to check damage and begin planning how to rebuild schools, the water-treatment plant and hospitals.

In Baghdad, however, a roadside bomb killed two British civilians traveling in an armored car near coalition headquarters — one of a series of blasts that rocked the center of the Iraqi capital.

The U.S. military, meanwhile, introduced more photographs to bolster its contention that American aircraft attacked a safehouse for foreign fighters near the Syrian border last week — not a wedding party as claimed by survivors and police.

In Karbala, cars were back on the streets, honking as children played soccer on a dusty field. Iraqi police, who disappeared in mid-April, were patrolling the Old City, the scene of fighting until Friday. Now, it’s the militiamen loyal to firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who have left.

As a sign of the new calm, hospital officials said no patients had sought treatment for gunshot wounds since late last week.

Lt. Col. Garry P. Bishop said about 250 insurgents had been killed during the fighting in the city since Sheik al-Sadr began an uprising last month. Four U.S. soldiers were killed and more than 50 were wounded.

Col. Bishop said that Karbala was “firmly in control of Iraqi security forces” who are working in conjunction with U.S. forces.

In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt introduced several new photographs of a house and white powder that he said was being tested for drugs.

The coalition spokesman again showed pictures of items the military said it had found at the attack site, including machine guns, rounds of ammunition, a Sudan Airways plane ticket, medical gear, a Sudanese passport and battery packs associated with improvised explosive devices.

“What we found on the ground and our post-strike analysis suggests that what we had was a significant foreign-fighter smuggler way station in the middle of the desert that was bringing people into this country for the sole purpose of attacking to kill the people of Iraq,” he said.

A videotape obtained on Sunday by Associated Press Television News shows a wedding party attended by Iraqis, some of whom were recognized by an AP reporter and photographer who interviewed survivors at a hospital. The tape does not show any weapons.

Separate video that APTN shot a day later in Mogr el-Deeb, the site of the attack, shows fragments of musical instruments, pots and pans, and brightly colored bedding used for celebrations, scattered around a bombed-out tent.

Gen. Kimmitt again denied finding evidence that children died in the raid, contradicting the accounts of survivors who said most of the dead were women and children — some of whose bodies were filmed by APTN at their burial in the city of Ramadi.

“We have witnesses that say no children were killed there. That’s why we need to take all that evidence, take all the information, put it before the investigators, and let’s see where it takes us,” he said.

The blast that killed the two Britons in Baghdad occurred about 50 yards from the “Assassins Gate,” one of the main entrances to the heavily guarded Green Zone.

British authorities said at least one of the dead worked for Control Risks Group, a private contractor that provides security and risk assessments.

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