Tue, Nov 18, 2003 - Page 6 News List

US troops go on offensive in Iraq

AP , BAGHDAD

An Iraqi man asks a British soldier to let him see through the telescopic sight of his weapon in the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Sunday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

US troops raided a Baghdad neighborhood and fired a missile at an alleged training base in northern Iraq, part of a new offensive against guerrillas as a tape purportedly made by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein urged the rebels to redouble their efforts.

The military moves came as the Army tried to determine why two of its Black Hawk helicopters crashed in the northern city of Mosul on Saturday, killing 17 soldiers in the worst single loss of American life since the war began.

On Sunday, the military fired a satellite-guided missile with a 225kg warhead from Taji, north of Baghdad, and hit a suspected training base west of Kirkuk, about 209km away, said Lieutenant-Colonel William MacDonald, spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division.

MacDonald said it was the first time such missiles have been used since the end of major combat on May 1.

In Baghdad, US troops backed by armored vehicles and helicopters moved into the Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Azamiyah, sealing off a 20-block area and searching 450 houses over seven hours. They netted 30 Kalashnikovs, about a dozen shotguns and 10 pistols, according to US officers.

Soldiers detained 21 people for illegal weapons possession, although all were expected to be released yesterday.

The raids in Azamiyah, an upper-class neighborhood, angered many residents.

"Of course everybody has weapons. We have all been robbed. We were afraid of the Iraqis and now we're afraid of the Americans," said Samir al-Hadith, an engineer from Saudi Arabia.

In Tikrit, troops shelled positions used to fire mortars and a rocket at American forces earlier in the day, Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Russell said.

Meanwhile, the alleged Saddam tape urged Iraqis to escalate attacks against the occupation and "agents brought by foreign armies" -- an apparent reference to Iraqis supporting the coalition.

The speaker on the tape, aired on Al-Arabiya television, said the only way to end the chaos in Iraq was for Saddam and his now-outlawed Baath Party to return to power.

The CIA said it would review the tape for its authenticity.

US President George W. Bush dismissed the recording.

"I suspect it's the same old stuff. It's propaganda. We're not leaving until the job is done, pure and simple," Bush said. "I'm sure he'd like to see us leave, if in fact it's his voice. I know the elements of the Baathist party, those who used to torture, maim and kill in order to stay in power would like to see us leave."

The voice in the recording resembled Saddam's, but was huskier and the speaker seemed tired.

"The evil ones now find themselves in crisis and this is God's will for them," he said.

The only solution for Iraq, the speaker said, was for "the zealous Iraqi sons, who ran its affairs and brought it out of backwardness ... to return ... to run its affairs anew," he said, referring to the Baath leadership.

The speaker also lashed out at Iraqis who cooperate with the US military, calling them "stray dogs that walk alongside the caravan."

The top US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said Saddam likely made some arrangements for a guerrilla war against the Americans before his regime fell in April.

"I think there are some indications that he had prepared for a low-intensity conflict, terrorist war, the kind we're seeing now, beforehand," Bremer said on the US television program Fox News Sunday.

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