- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2004

BAGHDAD — U.S. Marines have found beheading chambers, bomb-making factories and the mutilated body of a woman as they swept through Fallujah — turning up hard evidence of the city’s role in the campaign to drive American forces from Iraq.

Marines yesterday showed off what they called a bomb-making factory, where insurgents prepared roadside explosives and car bombs that have killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians and U.S. troops.

Wires, cell phones, Motorola hand-held radios and a box packed with C4 plastic explosives sat in the dark building down an alley, along with three balaclava-style masks reading: “There is only one god, Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.”

“It’s all significant because this is not the kind of stuff an average household has,” said Lt. Kevin Kimner, 25, of Cincinnati, assigned to the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines. “This is better than Radio Shack.”

U.S. Marines said they also found the disemboweled body of a woman thought to be a Westerner wrapped in a blood-soaked blanket and lying in a street during a sweep for terrorist holdouts in central Fallujah yesterday.

Although the body had not been examined carefully, a Marine officer said on the condition of anonymity that he was “80 percent sure” that the victim was a Western woman.

Margaret Hassan, 59, director of CARE International in Iraq, and Teresa Borcz Khalifa, 54, a Polish-born longtime resident of Iraq, are the only Western women known to have been abducted in Iraq.

The grisly discovery came after U.S. military officials forecast several more days of fighting against pockets of resistance, but declared that there were no more large concentrations of enemy fighters after nearly a week of intense urban combat.

“The perception of Fallujah being a safe haven for terrorists, that perception and the reality of it will be completely wiped off before the conclusion of this operation,” said Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force.

The surprisingly quick success came at a cost of at least 38 American troops and six Iraqi soldiers, the military said. About 275 U.S. troops were wounded, although more than 60 have returned to duty. U.S. officials estimated that more than 1,200 insurgents were killed.

As the fighting ebbed in Fallujah, terrorist attacks appeared to escalate elsewhere in Sunni Muslim areas of central and northern Iraq.

Saboteurs set fire yesterday to four oil wells in Iraq’s northern fields, setting off successive explosions in Khabbaza, 12 miles northwest of Kirkuk, oil officials said.

Heavy explosions rattled central Baghdad near the Palestine and Sheraton hotels last night, followed by bursts of sporadic gunfire. The U.S. military said initial reports indicated that rockets or mortars had struck the area, killing two Iraqis and wounding a third.

About an hour later, several more large explosions rocked the green zone, headquarters of the U.S. and Iraqi leadership. At least one private security guard was killed. Clashes also were reported on Haifa Street, a center of insurgent support in the heart of the capital.

In Mosul, where an uprising broke out last week in support of the Fallujah defenders, militants raided two police stations, killing at least six Iraqi national guardsmen and wounding three others.

One insurgent was killed and three others were wounded before Iraqi security forces regained control of both stations, witnesses said.

So far, U.S. troops have only found two hostages in Fallujah, one Iraqi and one Syrian. Marines last week found the Iraqi in a room with a black banner bearing the logo of one of Iraq’s extremist groups. He was chained to the wall, shackled hand and foot in front of a video camera. The floor was covered with blood.

The rescued Syrian was the driver for two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, missing since August. The journalists have not been found, but France maintains that they are still alive.

A Marine officer said he found signs that at least one foreign hostage was beheaded in that room. The Marine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, did not give details.

The Iraqi hostage, who had been beaten on the back with steel cables, said his tormentors were Syrian. He was in a room inside a compound that also had AK-47 rifles, improvised bombs, fake identification cards and shoulder-fired missiles that could down an airliner. Beneath it were tunnels running under the northern Jolan neighborhood.

Marines said weapons depots were strategically placed throughout Jolan. Insurgents marked many of the caches with a piece of brick or rock, suspended from the buildings by a piece of string or wire.

U.S. officials hope that by retaking Fallujah, they can deprive the rebels of an important headquarters and boost security in Iraq ahead of elections scheduled for January.

When Marines uncovered the bomb-production lab in a Saturday sweep, among the clutter were two wills, addressed to friends and family in Algeria.

“I will join my friends in heaven,” one will read. “Don’t cry for me. Celebrate my death.”

In the room were a computer without a hard drive and a box full of professional explosives-triggering.

“We’ve seen better,” Lt. Kimner said of the detonators. “But they’re reliable, and they do the job right.”

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