Wed, Jul 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Despite attacks, US says Iraq is no Vietnam

UNDER FIRE Two attacks in Baghdad injured more US soldiers as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tried to deflect suggestions that the situation was deteriorating

REUTERS , BAGHDAD

Iraqis shout abuse as a US military vehicle drives past a burnt out Humvee in the Yusufiyeh neighborhood, some 20km from the center of Baghdad, yesterday. Bystanders set fire to the Humvee when it came to the aid of another US military vehicle that plunged into a gully, injuring two soldiers.

PHOTO: AFP

US soldiers were hurt in two attacks in Baghdad yesterday, and an explosion overnight at a mosque in the restive town of Falluja killed several Iraqis.

Hours earlier, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had rejected suggestions that US-led forces in Iraq faced a Vietnam-style guerrilla war. But he cautioned that it would take some time to stamp out armed resistance.

A US military vehicle blew up near al-Mustansiriyah University in central Baghdad and one witness said US troops pulled four badly wounded soldiers from the burning car.

The blast occurred shortly before 10am and set a US and an Iraqi car on fire.

As in Falluja, where local people said at least six people had died in the mosque explosion, the cause of the blast was unclear.

Some witnesses in Baghdad said the Iraqi car blew up next to the American vehicle while others said a rocket-propelled grenade was fired.

"We were sitting at a cafeteria near the university when we heard a large explosion. We rushed to the site and found two cars burning, one American and one Iraqi. US troops pulled out from the vehicle four soldiers," said Ya'aroub Abdulillah, a resident.

Earlier in the morning, another US soldier was slightly wounded when someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade on a convoy traveling near the Baghdad airport, the US military said.

"These explosions are a message to the Americans because they have done nothing for the Iraqi people. There will be more and more explosions," said Mohammad Owdeh, another Baghdad resident.

US forces have come under fire almost daily of late in mainly Sunni Muslim central Iraq, a stronghold of ousted president Saddam Hussein, who repressed the Shiite majority.

At least 22 US and six British soldiers have been killed by hostile fire since US President George W. Bush declared major combat in Iraq over on May 1.

Responding to suggestions that a US air attack caused the Falluja explosion, a US military spokesman said he was unaware of operations at the time in the town, 50km west of Baghdad, and did not know what caused the blast.

Residents of Falluja, scene of previous fatal clashes between US forces and local people, said they had heard the sound of a missile or aircraft just before the explosion.

People carried three wooden coffins from the rubble of the damaged mosque for burial.

"All of the dead were imams of mosques and they were taking part in religious classes," said one local man, Saad Ali Rihan.

"They were performing their religious duties and American missiles hit them. Is that democracy?"

The US military, which has about 156,000 soldiers in Iraq, has launched several operations to stamp out attacks. The latest, Operation Desert Sidewinder, began on Sunday with infantry backed by aircraft and armored vehicles.

"[The] battles will go on for some time," Rumsfeld said, as US forces said they had detained 180 people in new raids.

He said remnants of Saddam's ousted government, Baath party and Fedayeen paramilitary units had become a "terrorist network" since the invading forces took Baghdad on April 9.

"There are so many cartoons where people, press people, are saying, `Is it Vietnam yet?' hoping it is and wondering if it is. And it isn't. It's a different time. It's a different era. It's a different place," he said.

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