WMD hunters ambushed in Baghdad

By P. MITCHELL PROTHERO   |   April 26, 2004 at 1:32 PM

BAGHDAD, April 26 (UPI) -- An explosion that killed al least three U.S. personnel in Baghdad was an ambush of a top-secret unit detailed to search for weapons of mass destruction, United Press International has confirmed.

The military initially claimed that a detail of U.S. Army soldiers were about to raid a suspected bomb making factory when two were killed after an explosion. Several Iraqis in the area at the time told UPI that the building exploded when the soldiers tried to enter the house.

Although coalition spokesman Maj. Gen. Mark Kimmitt admitted that the owner of the home "was suspected of supplying chemical agents," he refused to confirm that the troops belonged to the top secret Iraq Survey Group, a task force of Central Intelligence Agency, Special Forces soldiers and other biological, chemical and nuclear weapons experts.

Kimmett would only say that, "The inspection was by a number of coalition forces."

But at the scene of the blast in Baghdad's Waziriya district -- which destroyed four military Humvee vehicles -- UPI witnessed clear evidence that the troops belonged to the ISG, including credentials looted from the vehicles by local Iraqi youth.

And just a kilometer from the scene, a dozen Special Forces soldiers had secured part of a hospital for treatment of five wounded soldiers. Their completely anonymous uniforms, lack of unit patches or rank indications, facial hair, personalized weaponry and radically modified military vehicles generally indicate membership in special operations units.

Although coalition officials have said that two Americans were killed in the blast, which leveled the house being raided, and five were wounded, an Iraqi employee of UPI witnessed three uniformed American or British bodies being put into body bags and taken from the scene.

Although laws require the U.S. government to announce the combat deaths of military personnel, it does not generally announce the deaths of intelligence officers or special forces troops operating on classified missions, which could explain the discrepancy in the actual and announced number of those killed in the action.

Neighbors of the facility told UPI that the building raided had been in use as a weapons-making facility used to arm resistance elements in Iraq, but they could not confirm any connection to chemical or biological weapons production.

The neighborhood reacted with joy at the destruction and within minutes of the departure of the U.S. forces from the area began looting the vehicles of helmets, charred weapons and shredded uniforms.

As the crowd gathered around the burning vehicles, children began pelting them with rocks and men used sticks, axes and sledgehammers to break off chunks of the destroyed equipment.

The looting was accompanied by chants of "Yes, yes Moqtada. No, no America!" The cheers referenced radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose militia has been in armed conflict with the coalition forces for nearly a month.

One participant told a reporter "See how Iraqis fight! We will destroy America."

At one point, several men actually started one of the burning vehicles, put the fire out, and drove it around the neighborhood while it spewed oil and black smoke. Crowds of men and boys jumped on top of the vehicle as they took a triumphant victory lap around the neighborhood streets until they came upon the Turkish Embassy.

At the embassy, the guards became unsettled at the sight of a dozen cheering Iraqis riding atop a burnt U.S. military vehicle and opened fire on the crowd of supporters, causing everyone involved to dive for cover. One Iraqi was slightly wounded in that portion of the incident.

At that point the vehicle was set on fire -- again -- and left to burn on one of Baghdad's main streets.

This was not the only violent incident in Iraq Monday, as U.S. Marines continued to insist that a ceasefire remains in effect in Fallujah, the restive city 35 miles west of the capital.

But while the coalition calls the situation a "ceasefire" while a negotiated settlement to the nearly month-long siege of the city, the thousands of anti-coalition fighters dug into the dusty city appear to be preparing less for negotiations and more for their own "Alamo" as they continue to attack Marines at every opportunity.

In meetings this weekend between national security staff and President Bush in Washington, the coalition has decided to try for a political settlement to the siege of Fallujah, which began after four U.S. security contractors were killed and mutilated in an ambush in early April.

The ensuing fighting killed dozens of American soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis. It also saw a mass exodus of refugees from the fighting flooding into Baghdad. Two weeks ago a ceasefire was declared by U.S. troops, but there have been almost daily skirmishes.

But Monday saw the announcement that the U.S. did not plan on a return to a frontal assault on the city, but rather would begin joint Iraqi-American patrols of the city on Thursday.

The response from the insurgents was the bitterest fighting in two weeks that has killed at least one Marine and wounded several others. Reports from Fallujah indicate that vast swaths of the city and being attacked by tanks and helicopters, while insurgents are responding with heavy weapons fire from various fortified positions, putting the ceasefire in dire jeopardy.

Part of the issue making a solution to the unrest in Fallujah difficult is the presence of hundred of foreign fighters from other Arab countries, who refuse to negotiate or surrender.

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