U.S. Marines Battle Iraqi Holdouts in Baghdad
U.S. troops fought against “pockets of intense resistance” at the Imam al-Adham mosque north of the city’s center, the nearby Az Amihyah Palace and the home of a Baath party leader in Baghdad.
Captain Frank Thorp, a spokesman at Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said U.S. troops were acting on information that senior government leaders were trying to organize a meeting in the area near the mosque and palace.
“We had information that a group of regime leadership was attempting to organize…a meeting. The fighting in and around the mosque complex could not be avoided as enemy forces were firing from the area of the mosque,” Thorp said on Thursday.
During the operation, Saddam loyalists in the mosque compound fired rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and AK-47 assault rifles, Thorpe said. One U.S. Marine was killed and over 20 were wounded during the four-hour battle.
Major Rod Legowski of the 1st Marine Division, based at Baghdad international airport, told Reuters he was unsure which senior Baathist Party leaders were meeting at the mosque, or whether Saddam Hussein was among them. Legowski called the mission a success, adding that the Marines were focused on targets of “significant military value.”
Maj. General Victor Renuart, director of Operations at the Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, said U.S. troops had either killed or captured the pro-Saddam fighters. He did not provide further information.
U.S. warplanes backed U.S. ground operations in Baghdad with continuing air strikes on suspected pro-Saddam holdouts in the Iraqi capital. On Thursday, U.S. soldiers in the areas reported hearing Iraqi anti-aircraft fire shooting at the U.S. warplanes.
Reuters correspondent Khaled Yacoub Oweis, who witnessed the clashes, reported that non-Iraqi Arab volunteer fighters were in control of the Aadhamiya district, where the mosque is located. The Arab fighters were patrolling checkpoints and guarding the area, the Reuters correspondent recounted.
When asked to confirm the reported “influx of foreign fighters” in Baghdad, Renuart acknowledged, “we’ve had some reports.”
“We’ve since seen fewer reports, but we have had a number on the battlefield killed or captured?And as I said, I think our forces in the west are doing a pretty credible job of keeping elements from coming into the country that aren’t desired,” Renuart said.
Meanwhile, northeast from the Iraqi capital, in the Saddam City district, U.S. Marines used heavy artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire against pro-Saddam forces on Thursday morning. This firefight comes a day after local residents, predominantly Shiites, celebrated the fall of Saddam’s regime and cheered the arrival of U.S. forces.
“[I]t’s important to note that despite what you see in terms of localized euphoria in places in some of the cities, that this operation is a long way from complete,” Renuart cautioned.
Though U.S. forces successfully encircled the Iraqi capital, Renuart said Baghdad “is still an ugly place.”
“There are many parts of the city that are either not secured by U.S. forces or are sort of unsecured at all, and there are other places in the city where we believe there are still pockets of remaining small elements of Republican Guard, Special Republican Guard and paramilitary forces,” he said.