U.S., Iraqi Forces Prepare for Major Assaults in Najaf
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 11, 2004 U.S. Marines and soldiers and Iraqi National Guardsmen engage in joint training exercises in preparation for major assaults against enemy forces in the Iraqi city of Najaf, a Multinational Force Iraq news release said today.
This training continues as sporadic fighting persists between 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit forces and outlaw militia in the Wadi Al Salam cemetery. Squad-sized enemy elements, seeking sanctuary in buildings and mosques surrounding the holy Imam Ali Shrine, are still entering the cemetery and engaging MEU forces with small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and sniper fire, the release said.
They also continue to set up mortar firing positions immediately outside these buildings and mosques, knowing MEU forces are making every effort to ensure the protection of one of Islam's holiest shrines, officials said. Enemy forces were observed staging numerous piles of tires in the streets within the exclusionary zone around the shrine and setting them on fire.
The 1st Marine Expeditionary Force on Aug. 9 assumed control of Najaf and Qadisiyah provinces, which include the towns of Najaf, Diwaniyah and Kufa at the direction of Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq.
Officials said that because they have common command and control systems, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit would be better suited to fall under the command of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. "This change is largely symbiotic in nature, and driven by the desire to increase and enhance the effectiveness of the MNF units in the provinces," a written statement from the multinational command in Iraq explained. The Polish Army previously controlled these provinces under the command of Multinational Division Central South. The 1st MEF retains control of the Anbar Province, which it has commanded since March 24.
Marines, augmented by Iraqi National Guardsmen from Najaf and other locations, two Army reinforced infantry battalions and one Army aviation battalion -- all now under the operational control of the 11th MEU -- are working together to constitute the force that will conduct the major assaults on Najaf, the news release said. Training with the Iraqi National Guard began several days ago, "and will foster an efficient, effective, cohesive team as ING leads the fight in ridding their city of those who break the rules of law and order," according to the release.
"Iraqi and U.S. forces are making final preparations as we get ready to finish this fight" that was started by militia loyal to radical Shiia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, said Col. Anthony M. Haslam, 11th MEU commander, quoted in a Multinational Force Iraq news release. "The desired end state is one of stability and security, where the citizens of Najaf do not live in fear of violence or kidnappings and where the city of Najaf can once again return to peace and prosperity."
The release cited a recent occasion when Marines on a security patrol in Najaf came under fire. "Since Marines did not have positive identification regarding who was shooting at them, they did not return fire," the release said. "This is demonstrative of the kind of discipline Marines have. Even when attacked, we do not fire indiscriminately. MEU forces are committed to minimizing collateral damage to protect the innocent citizens and infrastructure of Najaf."
MEU forces broadcast messages around the city using speakers mounted on vehicles, warning Najaf citizens to leave areas where anti-Iraqi forces are operating or where military operations are being conducted. Marines also warned enemy forces to lay down their weapons and peacefully leave the city, and that if they failed to do so or else Iraqi security forces, U.S. Marines and soldiers will target them. MEU forces also are coordinating with nongovernmental agencies for delivery of medical supplies to hospitals in Iraq, the release said.
In other news from Iraq, Stryker Brigade soldiers detained 13 suspected anti- Iraqi force members during a cordon-and-search operation in the Tall Afar region Aug. 10. The suspects were taken to a multinational Force facility for questioning.