US pounds targets in Saddam's home town

Red Cross suspends operations in Baghdad and Basra over 'volatile situation'
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The Independent Online

US forces today attacked targets in and around Tikrit, Saddam's home town and the area where a Black Hawk helicopter was shot down yesterday, killing six soldiers.

Lt. Col. Steven Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, also said US forces had reimposed the 11pm to 4am curfew on Tikrit, which had been lifted at the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan last month.

"This is to remind the town that we have teeth and claws and we will use them," Russell said after his troops blasted two abandoned houses and a warehouse with machine gun and heavy weapons fire. He said the buildings were believed to have been used by insurgents to mount attacks on Americans.

The International Red Cross, already planning to reduce staff in Iraq following an attack on its Baghdad headquarters, said today it was temporarily closing its offices in Baghdad and Basra "in view of an extremely dangerous and volatile situation".

Menawhile, the US Army reported that two soldiers from the US 82nd Airborne Division were killed today in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

The US military command said the Tikrit crackdown — dubbed "Operation Ivy Cyclone" — included patrols, ambushes, and search raids aimed at flushing out anti-coalition fighters.

Yesterday's Black Hawk crash brought the American death toll for the week to 32.

Before the overnight infantry raid into Tikrit, US troops late yesterday fired mortars and a US jets dropped at least three 225-kilogram (500-pound) bombs around the crash site, rattling windows over a wide area. Other US jets streaked over Tikrit after sundown. At least three mortars were also fired onto the US compound but caused no damage.

The helicopter went down on an island in the Tigris River and burst into flames — the third crash caused by hostile fire in two weeks and the second causing fatalities. Maj. Josslyn Aberle, spokeswoman for the 4th Infantry Division, said the cause had not been determined, but several other officers believed it was shot down.

The dead included the Black Hawk's four-member crew and two soldiers from Department of the Army headquarters, according to a Pentagon spokesman.

In Mosul, 250 miles north of Baghdad, six mortar rounds were fired at a police station in the city, Iraqi police said Saturday. Several shells missed their target and fell on nearby houses, slightly injuring a resident.

The city, which was once considered to be relatively free of guerrilla activity, has seen dozens of attacks on US forces in recent weeks, indicating that the rebellion has spread northward from its original stronghold in the so-called Sunni Triangle north and west of Baghdad.

US officers have long been concerned about the safety of aviation because of the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of shoulder-fired missiles still missing in Iraq after the collapse of Saddam's regime in April.

This week's death toll was by far the largest for any seven-day period since President Bush declared an end to hostilities on 1 May. In all of October, for instance, there were 42 deaths; in all of September, were 31.

US officials had hoped to encourage more countries to send troops to Iraq to relieve the burden on American forces. Turkey's parliament agreed last month to allow the government to send Turkish troops, a move which drew sharp opposition from Iraqi politicians.

But Secretary of State Colin Powell and Turkey's foreign minister have agreed that Turkey will not send peacekeeping troops to Iraq, officials said Friday, after plans for a deployment raised sharp opposition from Iraqis.