U.S. Troops Run Into Guerrilla Tactics From Iraqi Fighters | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.03.2003
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U.S. Troops Run Into Guerrilla Tactics From Iraqi Fighters

As bombing continues on Baghdad, Saddam Hussein appears on television and urges Iraqis to "strike evil."


American soldiers mourn the loss of a countryman, one of 11 U.S. soldiers confirmed dead

The group of Iraqis who approached the U.S. Marines on Monday morning appeared to be hungry and harmless. The men dressed in robes and headdresses begged for water. And the women clad in black veils covered in dust begged for food.

But the Marines in the area around the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah have grown wary of such Iraqis since they pushed into Saddam Hussein's country. Here, in a region about 230 miles from Baghdad, they constantly have to worry that civilians are actually a new sort of turncoat -- soldiers who have changed clothes.

"We saw some black berets hanging up in a tree, and we went to investigate, and we saw all these uniforms hanging there. I figure half these guys you see walking around are soldiers. They've discarded their uniforms," one Marine who did not want to give his name told a wire service reporter. "They're out there, they're watching us, and they're planning small counterattacks."

This was the apparent tactic the Iraqis employed in the Nasiriyah area over the weekend. The U.S. Marines ran into a surprise counterattack by the Saddam Fedayeen militia after they thought they had secured two bridges across the Euphrates River. It was here that the U.S. troops were bloodied. On Sunday, Iraq television showed up to eight corpses of what it said were U.S. soldiers killed in fighting near Nassiriya and five U.S. captives.

The Arab news channel Al-Jazeera reported that U.S. units may face more of the same type of fighting in the days to come. It quoted unidentified Iraqi officials as saying the Iraqis were using a defensive tactic of falling back, allowing their enemy to overextend itself and then to become vulnerable to attack behind the lines.

In Qatar, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid confirmed on Sunday that the U.S. military had suffered casualties in the region. Abizaid said 12 U.S. soldiers were missing and up to nine had been killed.

"It's the toughest day of resistance that we've had thus far. We understand that there may be other tough days ahead of us but the outcome is still certain," Abizaid told a news conference at Central Command headquarters in Qatar.

On Monday morning, the war of bullets and words continued. Here is a summary of events.

Saddam Hussein

Saddam took to the airwaves on Monday morning to proclaim that "victory will be ours soon."

Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein

"Iraq will strike the necks (of the enemy) as God has commanded you," he said in the nationally televised address. "Strike them, and strike evil so that evil will be defeated."

Saddam also said U.S. and British forces were advancing into "a dead end" as they neared Baghdad.

"These decisive days, oh you Iraqis are in line with what God has ordered you to do, to cut their throats," he said. "Those who are believers will be victorious. In these decisive days, the enemy tried not using missiles and fighter jets as they did before. This time, they sent their infantry troops. This time, they have come to invade and occupy your land."

Baghdad under siege from the air

Aircraft screamed in low over the Iraqi capital, shaking buildings early Monday with a heavy bombardment. The attacks followed raids on Sunday night in which one large explosion shook a Ministry of Planning building within the Old Palace, a presidential compound hit in earlier attacks.

It appeared to be the strongest air strikes since Friday night, when Tomahawk missiles rained down on the city of 5 million people, smashing several of Saddam's palaces and government buildings.

Monday morning's attacks were accompanied by calls from a local mosque. The loudspeaker from the mosque's minaret blared, "Allahu Akbar" - "God is great" - and "Thanks be to God."

100 hours

The U.S.-led attack on Iraq is now longer than the land war in the 1991 Gulf conflict. It passed the 100-hour mark at 9.30 a.m. on Monday Baghdad time (7:30 a.m Central European Time).

President George H. W. Bush chose 100 hours as the time to end a crushing ground offensive in 1991 with the liberation of Kuwait and the surrender of Iraqi forces, a prospect still in the future for his son.

"This is just the beginning of a tough fight," Bush warned over the weekend.

The latest war began just after 5:30 a.m. Baghdad time on Thursday with a strike by cruise missiles and stealth bombers aimed at killing Saddam.

Unlike the first Gulf War, which relied on the "overwhelming force" strategy favored by Colin Powell, then chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, the invasion to topple Saddam is gambling on a much lighter but speedier thrust to Baghdad. The spearhead of the invasion on Sunday was just 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Iraqi capital, U.S. officers said.

But Iraqi attacks on the long lines of the U.S. advance, stretching 200 miles from Kuwait, cost the lives of several U.S. soldiers and spelled captivity for at least five others, apparently from a maintenance unit chasing along in the rear.

"The next 72 hours could show whether we've overplayed our hand," said military analyst Dan Gouré on the television channel MSNBC.

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