BAGHDAD -- US and Iraqi troops battled Sunni insurgents in high-rise buildings on central Baghdad's Haifa Street yesterday, with snipers on roofs taking aim at gunmen in open windows as
New details also emerged about the downing of a private US security company helicopter on Tuesday, with US and Iraqi officials saying four of five Americans who died were shot execution-style. Violence was unrelenting in Iraq yesterday, with at least 69 people killed or found dead, including 33 tortured bodies found in separate locations in Baghdad.
With President Bush pushing a controversial plan to increase troop strength in Iraq, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the latest joint raid was aimed at clearing the Haifa Street area of "terrorists and outlaws" targeting residents. He promised such operations would continue as US and Iraqi troops prepare for a broader security crackdown to stanch the sectarian bloodletting that has turned Baghdad into a battlefield.
At 5 a.m. yesterday, Iraqi Army and American troops moved into the Sunni stronghold to launch targeted raids in a third bid this month to clear the neighborhood of militants. Armored vehicles massed along Haifa Street, where a median with trees separates four lanes of traffic lined by tall apartment houses built by Saddam Hussein for loyalists and dissidents from other Arab countries, mainly Syria.
The US-Iraqi force faced fierce resistance from insurgents using hand-grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and small arms from the high-rises, the American military said. The explosions were so loud they could be heard across the capital. Black smoke rose from the area, located on the west bank of the Tigris River about a mile north of the Green Zone, site of the US and British embassies as well as the Iraqi government headquarters.
At one point, US and Iraqi forces rushed into an office building on the edge of Haifa Street and told all the employees to go home as they fanned out and sent snipers to the roof, according to Jabbar al-Mashhadani, a Cultural Ministry spokesman.
The US military said the combined force in the operation, dubbed Tomahawk Strike II, detained seven suspected insurgents and seized heavy weapons, including many rocket-propelled grenades, anti tank rounds and 155 mm artillery rounds. The Iraqi Defense Ministry said 30 insurgents were killed and 27 captured, including four Egyptians and a Sudanese. At least one civilian was killed and seven were wounded, hospital and police officials said.
The military reported separately that an American soldier was killed yesterday in clashes near the city's center, but officials declined to give more specifics or say whether the death was connected to the Haifa Street fighting. Two US Marines also were reported killed Tuesday during combat in Anbar province, the military said.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, meanwhile, offered condolences for the five Americans killed in the helicopter crash in Baghdad, called them good men, and said he had traveled with them. The aircraft, belonging to the Blackwater USA security company, went down as it flew over a dangerous Sunni neighborhood while a gunfight was raging.
A senior Iraqi military official said a machine gunner downed the helicopter and four of the men were shot execution-style on the ground, but a US military official in Washington said there were no indications the aircraft had been shot out of the sky. Three Sunni insurgent groups separately claimed responsibility for the crash, with one posting on its website the ID cards of one of the Americans.
In Washington, a US defense official said four of the five were shot in the back of the head, but he did not know whether they were alive when shot.