4 U.S. Troops Killed by Iraq Suicide Bomb
By: Associated Press
A suicide bomber driving a taxi killed four American soldiers Saturday at a checkpoint in south-central Iraq, U.S. officers said. The attack came as coalition forces battled to quell paramilitary harassment in order to prepare for an all-out push toward Baghdad.
It was the first suicide bombing against U.S. or British forces since they invaded Iraq. Iraqi dissidents have claimed that Saddam Hussein opened a training camp for Arab volunteers willing to carry out suicide attacks against coalition troops.
Capt. Andrew Wallace said the slain Army soldiers were part of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, manning a checkpoint on a highway north of Najaf. A taxi stopped near the checkpoint, the driver waved for help, and the car exploded as the soldiers approached, Wallace told Associated Press Television News.
U.S. commanders said the attack would not force the coalition to make operational changes.
"We continue to place force protection as our highest priority, but that doesn't mean we're going to back into little holes and hide," said Col. Will Grimsley, commander of the 1st Brigade.
Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart, Jr, the U.S. Central Command's director of operations, said the attack was "a symbol of an organization that's starting to get a little bit desperate."
Renuart also said the United States has restricted the launch of Tomahawk cruise missiles over Saudi Arabia after complaints about errant strikes. He said some of the missiles had fallen onto Saudi territory, and U.S. experts would conduct a technical review before conferring with Saudi officials on whether the launches would resume.
In Baghdad, U.S. cruise missiles struck the Iraqi Information Ministry on Saturday, while mourners gathered at a marketplace where Iraqi officials said 58 civilians were killed by a coalition bomb. Kuwaiti authorities said Iraq fired a missile of its own that damaged a popular shopping mall in Kuwait City.
Ground combat continued in southern and central Iraq, while U.S. forces pressed ahead with air and missile strikes aimed at weakening Republican Guard positions defending Baghdad. The latest strikes included attacks by Apache helicopter gunships of the 101st Airborne Division.
Some U.S. combat units were slowing their advance while supply and communications support is beefed up, but coalition officials said there was no broad order for a pause in the push toward Baghdad.
""It is purely a case of shaping the battlefield, getting our troops equipped and in the right place for the next part of the campaign," said Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a spokesman for coalition forces.
Thus far, according to coalition officials, the frequent attacks on supply lines by Iraqi paramilitary fighters have not derailed preparations for the expected all-out assault on Republican Guard divisions near Baghdad. But Lockwood acknowledged that the aggressive paramilitary activity had not been anticipated by U.S. and British war planners.
"What we've encountered is yes, something slightly different: paramilitary forces that weren't in the war-game profile," Lockwood said.
In Kuwait City, officials said an Iraqi missile exploded early Saturday on a pier near a multilevel seafront shopping center, blasting out windows and causing two minor injuries. It was first missile to hit Kuwait City since U.S. troops based there invaded neighboring Iraq on March 20.
Iraqi authorities had no immediate comment on the Kuwaiti allegation, but said the explosion Friday evening at the Al-Nasr market in Baghdad was evidence that U.S. and British forces were targeting civilian areas.
Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said President Bush should be charged with war crimes in connection with the civilian deaths.
The U.S. Central Command said it was trying to determine what caused the market explosion, but repeated its denials that Iraqi civilian neighborhoods are targeted.
Overall, Iraq claims more than 4,000 civilians have been killed or wounded since the war began. In Baghdad alone, 68 people were killed and 107 injured late Friday and early Saturday in the market explosion and other blasts, al-Sahhaf said.
U.S. officials said the Information Ministry was targeted before dawn by Tomahawk cruise missiles. The building remained intact, but Information Ministry officials said the 10th floor — which housed an Internet server — was gutted.
South of Baghdad, Marines battled Iraqi fighters in and around the Euphrates River city of Nasiriyah, at a junction of highways leading to Baghdad.
Renuart confirmed reports that U.S. forces had found the bodies of some troops in shallow graves near Nasiriyah and said forensic investigators were going to the grave sites.
The Army's 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers in the area last Sunday. At least two 507th soldiers were killed; the Defense Department said eight more were missing and five were taken prisoners.
"We will also approach it from an aspect to ensure there were no war crimes committed in their deaths," Renuart said.
The Central Command also said American warplanes firing laser-guided missiles destroyed a building where some 200 members of the ruling Baath party were believed to be meeting Friday in the besieged southern city of Basra.
Renuart said coalition forces have now secured an oil refinery near Basra, one of three in Iraq. It is considered a crucial component in plans to keep Iraq's oil industry functioning.
British forces surround Basra — Iraq's second-largest, with a population of 1.3 million — and want to open the way for badly needed humanitarian aid. They have yet to launch a full-scale assault, but darted in with tanks Saturday to destroy two statues of Saddam.