Coalition Officials Defend Attack on Iraqi Minaret
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 27, 2004 Coalition officials in Baghdad today defended the U.S. Marines' decision to call in a strike on a minaret in Fallujah April 26 after determining that insurgents were using it to launch attacks with small- arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.
"We very reluctantly go after holy sites, but when those holy sites are used to store and fire weapons, we must take action if our Marines are pinned down," Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, told reporters at a news conference.
The Marines confirmed that insurgents were using the minaret as a staging platform following an attack earlier in the day. After cordoning off the area, they entered the mosque and found "a significant number of ammunition shell casings," Kimmitt said. Following the search, the Marines returned to their positions without damaging the minaret.
Kimmitt said the Marines called in the strike only after taking fire from the minaret the second time that day and realizing that their return fire was not enough to take out the enemy. This, he said, left the Marines with a choice: "Am I going to let my fellow Marines die, or am I going to recognize that that minaret has lost its protected status under international law and is being used as a firing platform and needs to go away?"
The Marines "made the right choice," Kimmitt said, by calling in precision strikes that toppled the minaret but inflicted "a minimal amount of collateral damage to any other part of that mosque."
"On the few occasions when we must attack a holy site when it has lost its protected status under the Geneva Conventions, we have used the minimal amount of force necessary to protect our Marines," he said.
Kimmitt said the perpetrators may not have been residents of Fallujah or Iraq, but rather, foreign fighters trying to drag the city's people into the fight "to create a wedge of animosity between the coalition and the people of Iraq."
That, he said, is why it is important for everyone to take a stand to prevent insurgents from using mosques to store and fire weapons and execute military operations aimed at derailing progress in Iraq. "We cannot passively sit by whether we are the coalition forces, the Iraqi security forces or the people of Iraq and allow these people to drive a wedge between what we collectively are trying to do as this country moves to sovereignty and democracy," Kimmitt said.
Just as the Marines took every precaution before calling in the attack on the minaret, Kimmitt said, he expects to see them working to rebuild it after stability is restored in Fallujah.
Kimmitt said the Marines have unilaterally suspended their offensive operations in the city for almost 17 days. "They have sat there in their positions within a cordon, peacefully waiting until a resolution has been established with the people of Fallujah to end this hostage situation by the foreign fighters and terrorists," he said.
"A peaceful situation is what we seek," Kimmitt added, while emphasizing that the coalition is prepared to use force and has "more than sufficient force" in place should the need arise.
Kimmitt said he expects joint patrols by coalition and Iraqi security forces to begin in the city after commanders on the ground determine that the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and Iraqi Police Service are properly trained for the mission. Kimmitt said that while the patrols could begin as soon as April 29, "we'll let the commander on the ground use his judgment about when that happens."