- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 17, 2004

BAGHDAD — A suicide car bomber blasted an American convoy north of Baghdad and U.S. troops battled insurgents west of the capital yesterday as a wave of violence across Iraq’s Sunni Muslim heartland killed at least 27 persons.

American forces pursued their search-and-destroy mission against the remaining holdouts in the former terrorist bastion of Fallujah, and to the north, U.S. soldiers pressed an offensive to reclaim part of the city of Mosul from militants.

This month has become one of the bloodiest in the Iraq war, as the U.S. death toll reached 1,206 with new Defense Department identifications Tuesday night and yesterday, according to an Associated Press tally.

Yesterday, a suicide attacker drove his bomb-laden car into a U.S. convoy during fierce fighting in the town of Beiji, 155 miles north of the Baghdad, killing 10 persons and wounding 12, including three American soldiers. Another attack on a convoy of civilian contractors in Beiji caused no casualties.

Elsewhere, a three-hour gunbattle between militants and U.S. forces after nightfall left seven persons dead and 13 hurt in Ramadi, a city west of Fallujah.

Insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortar and Kalashnikov rifles at U.S. forces in the city center, Zayout district and along the main highway in town, an official at Ramadi General Hospital said.

Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad, falls within the restive Sunni Triangle area north and west of the capital where the bulk of the attacks have erupted.

Although fighting has ebbed in Fallujah, it has not ceased. The U.S. military said pockets of insurgents remain, even though the city is fully occupied by American troops.

Heavy machine-gun fire and explosions rang out in south-central parts of the city yesterday as Marines hunted remaining fighters. In the northern Jolan neighborhood, Marines fought insurgents who officers said had sneaked back into the city by swimming the Euphrates River.

Bullets snapped overhead, and Iraqis collecting bodies of the dead ran for cover behind walls and in buildings as Marines returned fire. After 15 minutes of fighting, three insurgents were dead and one Marine was slightly injured in the hand, officers said.

Iraqi officials have acknowledged that insurgent leaders Omar Hadid and Sheik Abdullah al-Janabi, along with Jordanian terror boss Abu Musab Zarqawi, have not been captured and might have slipped away.

A man identified as Hadid appeared yesterday with three other hooded gunmen on Lebanese Broadcasting Corp. International television and dismissed assertions that the Americans control Fallujah.

Reports surfaced that 31 policemen had been kidnapped in the town of Rutba near the Jordanian border by armed men who stormed a hotel where the officers were staying.

The Karbala police officer who made the report said he escaped the Sunday raid, a police spokesman said.

The officer said about 20 men attacked the hotel, covering the captives’ heads with black bags and tying their hands before dragging them away, the spokesman said.

Adnan Asadi, deputy interior minister for administrative affairs, said the abduction reports were “not true.” He said the police sent for training in Jordan had not returned to Iraq.

In Mosul, where insurgents launched an uprising last week, the situation appeared calmer, with U.S. and Iraqi troops encountering isolated small-arms attacks, the military said.

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