A new front opens as GI's push onward

Posted in Iraq | 12-Nov-04 | Author: Edward Wong and Maria Newman| Source: International Herald Tribune

A video grab shows U.S. Marines fighting with insurgents in the Iraqi city of Falluja, November 11, 2004.
BAGHDAD Insurgents began attacks in the northern provincial capital of Mosul on Thursday, seemingly opening a major new front in the fighting, while American troops in Falluja pushed into the city's southern warrens, where guerrillas were believed to have barricaded themselves.

In Baghdad, a powerful suicide car bomb exploded on a busy commercial street Thursday morning, killing at least 17 people and wounding at least 30, military officials said.

In the evening, explosions rippled across the capital with an intensity not seen here since August, when American soldiers fought a Shiite uprising in the south.

The new violence in the north came as U.S. troops renewed their push through Falluja, in central Iraq.

The invasion began early this week at the northern boundary of the city but had slowed considerably along the main thoroughfare through town.

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said coalition forces now controlled much more than half of Falluja.

"Things are going, I think, as planned," he said on the CBS "Early Show," adding, "We've got about 70 percent of the city under control."

American military officials in Baghdad said 18 American troops and five members of the Iraqi security forces had been killed since the beginning of the Falluja operation.

Another 178 members of the American-led forces have been wounded, as well as 34 Iraqis.

"Today our forces are conducting deliberate clearing operations within the city, going house to house, building to building, looking for arms caches," Major General Richard Natonski, commander of the First Marine Division, said in a televised briefing from Falluja.

Various military officials have estimated that hundreds of guerrillas have died, out of as many as 3,000 who were thought to have gathered in Falluja before the American-led attack.

American forces also have taken an undetermined number of prisoners.

Insurgents in Mosul overran several police stations and took weapons, ammunition and body armor from the buildings, police officials and witnesses said.

By afternoon, they had seized five bridges across the Tigris River, which splits the city in half.

Columns of smoke filled the sky, and residents said that the city, the third largest in Iraq, had been thrown into a whirlwind of chaos the likes of which had not been seen since the Americans first invaded Iraq in March 2003.

The American military said that, in response to a call for help from local Iraqi officials, it had launched a major counteroffensive in the southern parts of Mosul.

In Baghdad, the car bomb exploded on Saddoun Street, a wide avenue running through the heart of downtown. Smoke filled the sky in center of the capital, and charred bodies were scattered across the street and trapped inside burning vehicles. The blast incinerated a dozen cars and destroyed several storefronts.

The bomber had tried to ram a convoy of three SUVs, a type of transportation favored by Western contractors, which had been traveling south.

The area of Baghdad is frequently attacked by suicide bombers, many of whom aim at the Baghdad Hotel, where many foreign security contractors stay.

A common rumor is that the hotel is the local headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, or perhaps of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad. Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Iraq and is not part of the U.S.-led coalition.

In Mosul, insurgents attacked the police academy and the Zuhoor police station with mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, then looted the buildings, which had apparently been abandoned by the police.

Similar scenes played out at half a dozen police stations all together, news reports from the region said.

Two Iraqi military vehicles were stopped by insurgents near Mosul University and then were burned. The fate of their occupants was unknown.

According to witnesses, American military forces appeared to be doing little to stop the mayhem, at least during the early fighting, taking up positions in the suburbs and on the airport road.

The authorities in Mosul warned residents to stay away from the five major bridges across the Tigris River because of fighting, The Associated Press said, and militants brandishing rocket-propelled grenades were seen in front of the hospital in the city's Jammia district.

A spokeswoman for the American military, Captain Angela Bowman, said that some of the attacks on the police stations had overwhelmed "the capabilities of the existing police force" and that five police stations had been "ransacked."

"The insurgents continue to fire at the Iraqi National Guard and the multinational forces," she said.

"The operations are still ongoing and probably will for some time until we fully secure the city," she added.

The news agency said Bowman rejected some residents' claims that parts of Mosul had fallen under insurgent control, saying that guerrillas "have not taken any parts of the city."

Insurgents also attacked the headquarters of pro-American Patriotic Union of Kurdistan Party, overpowering the building's guards and then forcing the people inside to leave, the Associated Press said.

Residents said that they saw masked gunmen roaming the streets, setting police cars on fire. Also, the local television station in Mosul went off the air during the fighting.

Edward Wong reported from Baghdad; Maria Newman from New York.