- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

BAGHDAD — U.S. soldiers battled insurgents northeast of Baghdad yesterday in clashes that killed more than 50 people. Some guerrillas were said to be “fighting to the death” in Fallujah, where American forces struggled to clear pockets of resistance.

At least five suicide car bombers targeted American troops elsewhere in Sunni Muslim areas north and west of the capital, wounding at least nine Americans. Three of the bombings occurred nearly simultaneously in locations between Fallujah and the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, the U.S. command said.

The zone between Fallujah and Ramadi was one of at least three areas in which terrorists pulled off almost-simultaneous attacks against U.S. or Iraqi forces, suggesting a level of military sophistication and planning not seen in the early months of the insurgency last year.

In a speech found yesterday on the Internet, a speaker said to be Abu Musab Zarqawi, the country’s most feared terror leader, called on his followers to “shower” the Americans “with rockets and mortars” because U.S. forces were spread too thin as they seek to “finish off Islam in Fallujah.”

The worst reported fighting yesterday took place about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad after assaults, at almost the same time, on police stations in Baqouba and its twin city, Buhriz.

Gunmen abducted police Col. Qassim Mohammed, took him to the Buhriz police station and threatened to kill him if police didn’t surrender the station. When police refused, the gunmen tied the colonel’s hands behind his back and fatally shot him.

U.S. and Iraqi troops rushed to the scene, setting off a gunbattle that killed 26 gunmen and five other Iraqi police, Iraqi officials said.

At the same time, insurgents attacked a police station in Baqouba and seized another building. U.S. aircraft dropped two, 500-pound bombs before the end of the fighting, in which four American soldiers were wounded, the U.S. command said.

In one of the car bombings along the Fallujah-Ramadi corridor, the attacker rammed into a Marine armored vehicle, wounding the four troops inside.

In Mosul, where an uprising broke out last week in support of the Fallujah defenders, a suicide driver tried to ram his bomb-laden vehicle into a U.S. convoy, the military said. He missed but set off the explosives, wounding five soldiers, four of them only slightly.

Gunmen also carried out near-simultaneous attacks on a police station and an Iraqi national guard headquarters in Suwayrah, 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing seven Iraqi police and soldiers.

The spike in violence accompanied the American-led assault against Fallujah, the main insurgent stronghold, 40 miles west of Baghdad. The week-old offensive in Fallujah has left at least 38 American troops and six Iraqi soldiers dead.

The number of U.S. troops wounded is now 320, though 134 have returned to duty. U.S. officials estimated that more than 1,200 insurgents have been killed.

Marine Col. Michael Regner, operations officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah, said U.S. and Iraqi forces had captured at least 1,052 prisoners in Fallujah, most of which are Iraqis but some of which are foreigners.

“Very few of them are giving up,” Col. Regner said. “They’re fighting to the death.”

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