Monday, March 21, 2005

U.S. GIs Kill 26 Militants in Iraq Clash

ABC News - Dozens of insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades, sparking a clash that saw U.S. troops kill 26 militants, one of the largest fights since Iraq's Jan. 30 election.

Some 40 rebels hit the military police and artillery units from the Kentucky National Guard late Sunday as the Americans traveled along a road 20 miles southeast of Baghdad that has seen a recent uptick in violence, the military said in a detailed account Monday.

Six soldiers and seven militants were wounded, and one person was arrested.

After the attack, troops recovered six rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 16 rockets, 13 machine guns, 22 assault weapons, more than 2,900 rounds of ammunition and 40 hand grenades from the insurgents.

Also Monday, in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriyah, gunmen in two speeding cars opened fire on an Iraq army foot patrol, killing one soldier and wounding another, police Capt. Talib Thamir said.

In Samarra, a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi army checkpoint, injuring several civilians, including women and children, according to police and hospital officials.

The U.S. military reported the death of one of its troops: A U.S. soldier killed a day earlier during action in restive Anbar province, which contains the flashpoint cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.

The U.S. military also said Monday that ten men captured by Iraqi soldiers last week had confessed to staging a March 9 Baghdad car-bomb attack near the Agricultural Ministry and a hotel favored by Westerners.

At least four people, including the attackers and a guard, were killed in that attack.

The Iraqi troops who carried out the March 18 raid also seized two vehicles being rigged for detonation as well as four rockets and launchers, light weaponry, blank Iraqi passports and thousands of dollars in cash, the military said in a statement.

Monday's violence came as Iraq and neighboring Jordan engaged in a diplomatic spat, with a tit-for-tat withdrawal of high-level representatives in a growing dispute over Shiite Muslim claims that Jordan is failing to block terrorists from entering Iraq.

Sunday's diplomatic row erupted even as a Jordanian court sentenced in absentia Iraq's most feared terrorist a Jordan native to a 15-year prison term.

As news emerged of the largely symbolic sentencing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose whereabouts are unknown, his al-Qaida in Iraq organization claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed a top anti-corruption official in the northern city of Mosul. Al-Zarqawi already has been sentenced to death twice by Jordan.

Sunday's events capped a week of rising tensions that included a protest in which Shiite demonstrators raised the Iraqi flag over the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad and claims by the Shiite clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance that Jordan was allowing terrorists to slip into Iraq. The Iraqi banner continued to flutter above the Jordanian embassy on Monday.

"Iraqis are feeling very bitter over what happened. We decided, as the Iraqi government, to recall the Iraqi ambassador from Amman to discuss this," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press.

Jordan acted first, when Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi announced his charge d'affaires in Baghdad had been recalled to Amman.

"We are hoping that the Iraqi police will devise a plan to protect the embassy," al-Mulqi said. "Meanwhile, we have asked the charge d'affaires to come back because he was living in the embassy."

He added that other Jordanian diplomats will remain in Baghdad because they do not live in the embassy compound.

Both countries said the officials were being recalled for "consultations," leaving open the possibility for their return.