Suicide Bomber In Baghdad Injures Four Marines
Thursday 10 April 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq In a stark reminder the war is still on, U.S. troops skirmished with bands of Saddam Hussein loyalists in parts of Baghdad on Thursday. A suicide attacker set off a bomb, wounding four Marines, and Iraqi artillery shells apparently hit an Army-held compound.
Earlier fighting around a palace on the northern outskirts of town killed one Marine and wounded about 20. Bursts of gunfire and explosions echoed across the city more than a day after Iraqis danced in the streets over their president's fall.
Baghdad may be encircled by U.S. forces, but it "is still an ugly place," warned Maj. Gen. Gene Renuart, director of operations at U.S. Central Command in Qatar.
Looters were out for a second day, lugging away furniture, appliances and armloads of light bulbs. U.S. troops were ordered to crack down on theft if possible, while some Iraqis took matters into their own hands.
Dismayed by the pillaging of Al Kindi hospital Wednesday, medical students fanned out in the neighborhood Thursday to demand the return of medicine and other supplies. Garbed in blue hospital smocks, they returned cheering triumphantly in double-decker buses filled with boxes.
In the sprawling Saddam City district, a religious leader, Amar Al-Saadi, said some residents of the poor area had set up roadblocks and were confiscating looted items. The goods were being stored at a mosque, he said.
Officers in the 7th Marine Regiment said they received orders Thursday night to try to stop looting at their discretion.
Lt. Col. Michael Belcher, commander of the regiment's 3rd Battalion, said his priorities were first to protect key structures, such as the power system, and second to safeguard humanitarian sites like hospitals and aid distribution centers. Commercial buildings are last, he said.
"If I see them tearing down electrical infrastructure in some of these facilities, I'll step in to stop it," Belcher said. "What we found so far is that if you confront the looters, they'll put it down and go away."
He also said that on their own initiative, the 7th Marines planned to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew beginning Friday evening in the area the regiment is patrolling in eastern Baghdad.
Combat flared across Baghdad throughout the day.
About 7:30 p.m. Thursday, four Marines suffered serious wounds when a man strapped with explosives approached a U.S. checkpoint near Saddam City and blew himself up, said Capt. Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Division.
There was no immediate information on whether there were civilian casualties.
"We expected the enemy would try to pull all the dirty tricks out of the bag," Plenzler said, alluding to two previous suicide attacks on U.S. troops and the warning from Saddam's regime that suicide attacks would be "routine military policy."
An hour earlier, two explosions, apparently from artillery shells, caused several small fires at the southern end of the Old Palace compound in central Baghdad. U.S. soldiers occupying the site returned fire with tank cannons. There was no report of casualties.
The sound of a mammoth explosion rumbled across Baghdad late Thursday. Illuminated by the moon, a cloud could be seen from the center of town boiling hundreds of feet into the sky toward the north. There was no immediate word on what caused the blast.
Early in the day, a tough, seven-hour firefight left Marines in control of a palace on the northern outskirts of the city, after suffering one dead and about 20 wounded.
Other Marines fought holdout fighters at a Baghdad mosque and the house of a leader of Saddam's Baath Party.
Associated Press journalists who made it to the northwestern part of Baghdad found a near ghost town, with shops shuttered and streets empty of traffic. Small groups of Iraqi fighters manned sandbag positions and hid behind bushes. No U.S. troops were seen, except at one road intersection.
A visit to the nearby Russian Embassy, where rumors on Wednesday speculated Saddam might be hiding, found no signs of life. Two road barricades outside also were deserted.
Elsewhere in the city, people streamed out of government buildings with booty, piling it in wheelbarrows, donkey carts and battered pickup trucks.
"They're just looting everything," said Marine Staff Sgt. John Kelley, 29, of Toronto, Ohio.
"When I came down here earlier, I said, `They're taking everything but the kitchen sink'," he said. At that moment, he looked around to see a man carrying just that. "Ah," Kelley said, "he's got a sink."
One boy in ripped rubber boots dragged a dilapidated electric ceiling fan down the street. A man driving a small Volkswagen pointed to his catch an obviously broken industrial air conditioner protruding from the tiny trunk.
A group of men sat on the median of a boulevard, guarding a pile of cushioned office chairs. One man carried a plush chair on his back. Another scurried along with an armful of fluorescent bulbs.
Omar Amir ended up with a new mattress, poached from a government office. "I need one. I don't have one," he said, smiling broadly.
Some people shot big grins at American soldiers and Marines, putting down their prizes to offer a thumbs-up or a quick finger across the throat and a whispered word "Saddam" before grabbing their loot and vanishing.
People on the street cheered passing convoys of American troops, and drivers in cars honked and waved.
Some passers-by stopped to give flowers to Marine combat engineers guarding the Interior Ministry compound. "It's like al this was worth something now," said one guard, Kurt Gellert, 27, of Atlantic City, N.J.
U.S. soldiers intervened at one bank to disperse a throng that was trying to break open a safe. The troops were attracted to the scene when the Iraqis fired rifles at the safe, sending ricochets zinging dangerously through the air. Army personnel later opened the safe and found no money inside.
At a police academy across from the Interior Ministry, Marines kept looters away from an armory brimming with assault rifles, crates of mortar shells and grenades and scores of boxes of knives and pistols.
Civilians stripped the compound of its less lethal trappings, disappearing with televisions, refrigerators, blankets and bedrolls. One man gleefully wheeled a full cart toward the gate, past an enormous picture of a rifle-wielding Saddam.
A woman, too frightened to give her name, said she hoped U.S. troops would restore order soon.
"We have all been surprised by the chaos," she said in English. "Everything is out of control. We can't sleep because we are afraid of being attacked by our own people."
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