The Battle For Al-Qaim : The
Insurgents Attack U.S. Base In Iraq
Large-Scale Assault Is Second Within 2 Weeks; Contractor Abducted
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
04/12/05 "Washington Post" - - BAGHDAD, April 11 -- Insurgents claiming links to al Qaeda tried to overrun a U.S. Marine base near the Syrian border Monday using gunmen, suicide car bombs and a firetruck loaded with explosives, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
The assault was the second time in less than two weeks that foreign insurgents have massed an organized, military-style offensive, U.S. officials said. Insurgents typically have staged smaller-scale bombings and attacks.
In another development, an American contractor believed to be working on an aid project was reported kidnapped in the Baghdad area, the U.S. Embassy said. Authorities released no other information, but soldiers stepped up searches of vehicles entering Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.
[On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, en route to a surprise visit to Iraq, told reporters that the country's new interim leaders should avoid political purges and cronyism that could spark "lack of confidence or corruption in government," the Reuters news agency reported. He arrived in Baghdad before sunrise.]
The raid Monday was on Camp Gannon, a U.S. base at Husaybah, a few yards from the Syrian border near the Euphrates River. U.S. Cobra attack helicopters fired on the insurgents to repel simultaneous attacks by suicide bombers and armed fighters, officials said. A second car bomb exploded 15 minutes after the first assault, "at the same entrance, while the soldiers were busy rescuing the wounded," Capt. Saad Abdul Fattah of the Iraqi army said.
The U.S. military said three Marines were wounded and at least three bombers were killed. Witnesses and a hospital spokesman reported 10 to 15 dead, including foreign and Iraqi insurgents.
A statement posted on an Islamic Web site, purportedly from the group al Qaeda in Iraq, asserted responsibility for the attack.
Camp Gannon is an abandoned railway station that houses hundreds of Marines along a border long used by smugglers and other outlaws. Insurgents have operated openly in some towns in the area.
The suicide bombers, driving a firetruck, a pickup truck and one other vehicle, "attempted to breach the perimeter of Camp Gannon," the U.S. military said in a statement.
The bombs exploded prematurely, slightly damaging the camp defenses of concertina wire and barricades. A mosque and other surrounding buildings also sustained minor damage, the statement said.
Marines came under small-arms fire at the same time, the military said. A 25-year-old student who witnessed the attack said at least 40 Arab and Iraqi fighters took part in the assault.
Cobra attack helicopters fired on a vehicle carrying an unknown number of gunmen, destroying it, the military said.
The attack came nine days after the group, led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian, asserted responsibility for an unsuccessful attempt to breach the walls of the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison in a concerted attack involving mortars, rockets, car bombs and ground fighters. U.S. officials said the two attacks were well-planned and mark an operational shift for foreign groups that have been known for individual suicide bombings and kidnappings.
Zarqawi's group appears to be trying for a spectacular coup against U.S. forces in a bid to regain flagging popular support and momentum, a U.S. official in Baghdad said.
An Iraqi insurgent commander with Zarqawi's group who claimed he helped lead the Abu Ghraib assault said in a recent interview that the movement had been scouting Anbar province, the area of Monday's assault, in search of a U.S. base to attack with suicide bombers and heavy weapons.
The commander, who goes by the name Abu Salim, did not cite other possible targets for insurgent strikes. Another commander, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Jalal, a member of the Sunni Muslim-led insurgent group Mohammed's Army, said in a separate interview that Zarqawi's group intended more assaults on U.S. installations in an effort to strike fear among the 138,000 U.S. troops here.
Daily attacks by insurgents have dropped from triple digits to double digits since national elections in late January, according to officials. Iraqi insurgent groups such as Mohammed's Army draw heavily on former military men from the Sunni minority, which fell from dominance when President Saddam Hussein was ousted by U.S.-led forces in April 2003.
Leaders of the new government increasingly have been trying to draw Iraqi insurgents into the political process, splitting them from foreign fighters such as Zarqawi.
Meanwhile, in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded Monday near a U.S. convoy in a street market crowded with customers, killing at least two Iraqis, news agencies reported.
And in a sweep of the Rashid neighborhood of Baghdad, hundreds of U.S. soldiers accompanied by Iraqi troops and police detained 65 suspected militants, the U.S. military said.
Also, a group claiming to have kidnapped a Pakistani Embassy official, Malik Mohammed Javed, over the weekend demanded money for his release, the Associated Press reported.
And an Iraqi Defense Ministry official said Monday that Iraqi security forces had arrested a person who claimed to have kidnapped two French journalists last year, the Associated Press reported. Iraqi soldiers detained Amer Hussein Sheikhan in the Mahmudiyah area of Baghdad on April 4, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, were released in December after four months in captivity.
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