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Published: Sunday, 3/30/2003

Iraq says 4,000 Arabs arrive to stage suicide attacks

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A general from Saddam Hussein's army has been captured in southern Iraq and is being pressed to provide strategic information, British officers said Sunday. An Iraqi official said 4,000 Arab volunteers have arrived, eager to carry out more suicide attacks against U.S. and British forces.

Four American infantrymen were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq on Saturday, and on Sunday a man in civilian clothes rammed a white pickup truck into a group of U.S. soldiers standing by a store at their base in Kuwait.

About six people were injured in the attack at Camp Udairi, said Lt. Col. Larry Cox, public affairs officer at the Coalition press office in Kuwait City. An earlier report said 10 to 15 were hurt.

No explosives were found in the truck, a Pentagon official said.

The driver of the truck was a “third-country national” who was being detained by U.S. military forces, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another military official said the driver was not American and did not appear to be Kuwaiti. More than half of the people in Kuwait are foreign workers, many from the Philippines, India, Bangladesh and other Middle Eastern countries.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the allied coalition, said he was unsure whether the two incidents were linked. He called the suicide attack “pure terrorism” and said his troops would henceforth exercise more caution in dealing with Iraqis.

Franks, at a briefing Sunday, also denied that he had asked the Pentagon for more troops before invading Iraq. He sidestepped a question about whether the war might last into the summer.

Franks was responding to published reports that the requests of U.S. generals for more ground troops were repeatedly denied by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. Reports also quoted U.S. military officials as saying the lack of troops and weapons meant the war might last into the summer.

“One never knows how long a war will take,” Franks said.

Asked about the status of Saddam Hussein, Franks said he did not know.

“I don't know whether the leader of this regime is dead or alive,” Franks said. “I have not seen credible evidence over the last period of days that this regime is being controlled from the top.”

Group Capt. Al Lockwood, a British spokesman, said an Iraqi general was captured in the besieged city of Basra — the highest-ranking Iraqi prisoner of war thus far.

“We'll be asking him quite politely if he's willing to assist us to continue our operations against the paramilitary forces in Basra,” Lockwood said.

Lockwood also said Royal Marine Commandos killed a Republican Guard colonel who apparently was sent to Basra to strengthen the resolve of the defense forces, who are encircled by British troops.

An unidentified Iraqi official in Basra, quoted by the Arab satellite television station al-Jazeera, denied the capture of a general and the killing of a colonel. The official also claimed four British soldiers were killed but did not elaborate.

Further north, along the approach routes to Baghdad, some American units have paused while supply lines are shored up, but others were engaged in battles to clear the way for an all-out assault. U.S. and British warplanes have focused three-quarters of their strikes in recent days on Republican Guard positions defending the capital.

The U.S. Central Command said the latest targets hit by coalition aircraft included military facilities at the Abu Garayb Presidential Palace, the Karada military intelligence complex and the barracks of a major paramilitary training center, all in different sectors of Baghdad. Several telephone exchanges in the city also were hit Sunday, as well as a train loaded with Republican Guard tanks.

Although coalition commanders have been unflaggingly upbeat about the progress of the war, American soldiers in the field were jolted by news a car bombing Saturday in which an Iraqi soldier posing as a taxi driver gestured for help at a checkpoint near the city of Najaf, then blew up his car as soldiers approached. Four Americans from the Army's 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division were killed; their names were not immediately released.

“It's a shame they are doing that, because now we're going to have to treat every civilian vehicle like it is hostile,” said Staff Sgt. Bryce Ivings of Sarasota, Fla., a member of 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment.

“If we accidentally kill a civilian because they took a wrong turn and came at us, it will be on their (the Iraqi leadership's) head.”

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf contended at a briefing Sunday that several Iraqi civilians had been shot dead in their cars by coalition soldiers in a mood for vengeance after the suicide attack.

Lt. Gen. Hazem al-Rawi, a senior Iraqi defense official, said the suicide attack marked “the beginning of a long path of jihad for Iraqis and Arabs against the invaders.” More than 4,000 volunteers have come from numerous Arab countries to participate in suicide attacks, he said.

Iraq's state television reported that the Najaf bomber — identified as Ali Jaafar al-Noamani, a noncommissioned officer with several children — was posthumously promoted to colonel and awarded two medals by Saddam Hussein. His family reportedly was awarded the equivalent of $34,000, a fortune in Iraq.

Iraq's vice president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, indicated the attack was part of a coordinated effort to thwart the invasion force, and he raised the specter of terrorism on U.S. or British soil.

“The day will come when a single martyrdom operation will kill 5,000 enemies,” Ramadan said. “We will use any means to kill our enemy in our land and we will follow the enemy into its land. This is just the beginning.”

Fighting continued in several areas, notably around the southern cities of Nasiriyah and Basra.

Al-Sahhaf, the information minister, said Iraqi tribesman had shot down an Apache helicopter near Basra, killing the pilot. U.S. Central Command said it had no information of such an incident.

In central Iraq, thousands of Marines pushed north Sunday in “seek and destroy” missions, trying to clear the route toward Baghdad that they have nicknamed “Ambush Alley.”

The Marines were ordered to question each Iraqi civilian they passed, then hand out ration packets as a gesture of goodwill. One unit took its chaplain along to oversee the aid distribution.

U.S. and British warplanes launched bombing raids early Sunday near Karbala, south of Baghdad, targeting Iraqi fuel storage depots.

Wing Commander Andy Suddards, who led a British Harrier raid on one of the depots, said one goal was to cut the fuel supply chain for Republican Guard tanks.

“The visibility was good and I saw the bang,” Suddards said.

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UPDATED: 2:30 p.m. EST



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