Wed, Jul 23, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iraqi insurgents using road bombs to slow US troops


A Sabaean Mandean follower washes vegetables for a meal after being baptized in the Tigris River in Baghdad. Hundreds of Iraqi Sabaean Mandeans -- an ancient religious sect that views the Bible's John the Baptist as savior -- submerge themselves in the Tigris in an annual ritual. They were celebrating the eve of their first New Year since the fall of Saddam Hussein.


Insurgents are increasingly using roadside bombs detonated by remote control to attack US forces in Iraq, with one GI and his Iraqi translator dying in northern Baghdad in the latest explosion.

As part of an effort to lower the US profile in Iraq, the new US commander in the region announced plans to establish an Iraqi militia to help patrol the country.

Monday's attack wounded three other members of the US Army's 1st Armored Division squad and destroyed two Humvees. A US military spokesman credited an Iraqi vendor with saving one of the injured soldiers.

"One man who worked at a nearby stand helped the soldiers out of the vehicles. That probably saved one soldier's life," Lieutenant Colonel John Kem said.

In the past week, three roadside bombs have exploded, each killing an American soldier, and troops discovered and defused at least one other. Four soldiers have died in attacks from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire, the weapons used in nearly all attacks before last week.

The bomb that was defused was hidden in a mold used to make blocks of ice and designed to be detonated by a radio-controlled doorbell button -- meaning it did not require a wire connection. Witnesses have reported other roadside bombs were set off by men sitting in cars some distance from the convoys, ensuring a quick getaway.

General John Abizaid, on his first visit to Iraq since taking over at US Central Command, said Monday that he would create an Iraqi civil defense force of nearly 7,000 men to patrol with the US military. It would consist of eight battalions, each with about 850 armed Iraqi militiamen.

Commanders said the militia was an effort to lower the profile of American forces.

"An Iraqi militia will be a localized effort to assist local governors in running their areas. It will assist coalition forces on an as-needed basis to put an Iraqi face on things," US Marines' Lieutenant General James Conway said in Hillah, south of Baghdad.

US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who was in the northern city of Mosul on Monday, met with American forces and warned Iraqis that the US would not be able to solve all the country's economic troubles.

"Some people think that because we're the United States we can fix things right away. We can't," Wolfowitz said.

Wolfowitz was escorted in Mosul, a city of 2.3 million people, by Major General David Petraeus, commander of the US Army's 101st Airborne division.

Petraeus told Wolfowitz he was focused on winning the Iraqi people's confidence that US troops are here to help rebuild the country, even while they are shot at by remnants of former president Saddam Hussein's regime.

As an example, Petraeus said that he improvised on the US Army's usual "cordon and search" technique of securing a building. He calls it "cordon and knock."

Instead of having his men secure the perimeter, then kick down doors to clear it of potential enemies, he leaves it to Iraqi security forces to check the building inside and clear it out.

Also Monday, Bernard Kerik, the former top New York City police official who is working to reorganize the Iraqi police, announced that Hassan al-Obeidi will be interim police chief for Baghdad.

A US military official in Iraq said, meanwhile, that US defense officials planned to field a first contingent of a new Iraqi army by October.

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