US hunts down 'Saddam loyalists'

US hunts down 'Saddam loyalists'

American soldiers have been involved in heavy fighting against Saddam Hussein loyalists killing up to 100 Iraqis, according to US military officials.

They say 27 Iraqis were killed after an American tank was fired on with rocket-propelled grenades in Balad, 60km (35 miles) north of Baghdad.

And at least 70 Iraqis were killed during a prolonged assault on what the US calls a "terrorist" camp 150 km (90 miles) north-west of the capital, a US army spokesman told Reuters news agency.

As the US stepped up operations to stamp out resistance, the London-based Quds Press news agency carried what it said was a handwritten message from the former Iraqi leader.

The message - also carrying Saddam's "personal signature" - pledged "a relentless war" against the coalition forces until they were evicted from Iraq.

'Tough fight'

More than 40 US troops have been killed since 1 May, when President George W Bush declared the war in Iraq effectively over.

The senior US official running Iraq, Paul Bremer, has blamed the continuing attacks against US troops on organised resistance by Baath Party loyalists.

The US military, for its part, said this week's operations were part of "the continued effort to eradicate Baath Party loyalists, paramilitary groups and other subversive elements".

US commanders say they are facing a backlash from small groups organising on a local basis, and not a co-ordinated national movement.

In the operation at Balad, 4,000 US troops have been searching the town and an area along the Tigris river.

A US tank came under attack on Friday, and four Iraqis were killed when the Americans returned fire.

Armoured vehicles supported by helicopter gunships chased the remaining attackers, killing another 23 people.

Referring to the attack on the camp north-west of Baghdad, US Air Force General Richard Myers said: "It was a tough fight. They were well-trained or well-equipped, and clearly well prepared for this."

One American was wounded, and fighting was reportedly continuing.

General Myers said US intelligence services were evaluating evidence that foreign fighters might have been at the camp.

On Thursday, two US aircraft came down over Iraq.

An Apache helicopter gunship was shot down by Iraqis on the ground - the first time a US aircraft had been shot down for two months.

It is not clear whether it was actively involved in the fighting.

And an F-16 fighter-bomber crashed in a separate incident - the cause is still being investigated. In both cases the crews were unharmed.

Pipeline fire

A key pipeline from northern Iraqi oilfields to Turkey has meanwhile been set ablaze 225km (140 miles) north of Baghdad, near Baiji - but the cause is unclear.

Oil pipeline fire
Turkey says the oil pipeline blast was 'sabotage'

Local sources said that the fire was caused by bombs planted on the pipeline, which runs near Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town and power base.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul also said the fire on the pipeline, which runs to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, had been sabotaged.

But US military sources said the fire was the result of a gas leak.

"I heard no reports on sabotage," said a US spokesman quoted by the Reuters news agency.

US military and Iraqi engineers are working to repair the vital link.

20:05 Gepost door AlphaGamma | Permalink | Commentaren (0) |  Facebook |

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