96 Insurgents Believed Killed in Samarra Assault
More than 4,000 American and Iraqi soldiers mounted a military assault on this insurgent-held city here Thursday night, in what appeared to be the first major operation to retake areas from guerrillas before the January elections. An American soldier from the First Infantry Division was killed, the military said in a statement today. . . . In a later statement, the military said that members of 36th Iraqi Commando Battalion secured the historic Golden Mosque, a sacred Shiite shrine, to safeguard it from insurgents. They also captured 25 rebels the mosque with weapons, the military said.
Four battalions of American troops from the First Infantry Division, backed by two battalions of Iraqi soldiers, began moving toward the city this evening under cover of heavy fire. As midnight passed, the bang of exploding shells could be heard nearly two miles outside the city limits. A statement released by the American military early today said that American and Iraqi forces had succeeded in entering the city and securing government and police buildings. The statement said the forces were acting “in response to repeated and unprovoked attacks by anti-Iraqi forces.” “Unimpeded access throughout the city for Iraqi security forces and multinational forces is non-negotiable,” the statement said. American officers said they were acting at the direct request of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
This city of 214,000 people, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, fell to the insurgents over the summer, one of a number of areas in the Sunni triangle north and west of Baghdad where the Americans and the Iraqi government have ceded control in recent months. As the operation got under way, American commanders said they aimed to take the city away from the insurgents and hold onto it. “We are going to go in there and quiet it down,” one American officer as his unit got ready to move. The fighting follows several recent attempts to reassert control over the city through peaceful means. As recently as Tuesday, a large group of insurgents drove through the city in a convoy of about 20 trucks, some of them waving the banner of One God and Jihad, the battle flag of the Jordanian militant Abu Musab Al Zarqawi.
The operation mounted Thursday appeared to be the first directed at retaking the areas in advance of nationwide elections set for January. Iraqi and American officials have said they intend to reassert control over all of the areas that have slipped from their control, so that voting will be open to nearly all Iraqi voters.
Interesting. And about time.