Helicopter Crew Killed When Shot Down Near Baghdad Airport
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 11, 2004 Both crewmembers of an Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter died today when insurgents shot down their helicopter near Baghdad International Airport in Iraq.
Meanwhile, near the walled suburb of Abu Ghraib outside of Fallujah, there are still reports of fighting despite a call for a cease-fire, Coalition Provisional Authority officials reported at a Baghdad news conference.
The coalition and the Iraqi Governing Council are seeking a political end to violence in Fallujah.
"We are now looking for the political track to be the method by which we re- establish Iraqi control of the city of Fallujah, (and) get legitimate Iraqi authority over that city, not extremist control," Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director of Combined Joint Task Force 7, told reporters at the news conference.
Senior spokesman Dan Senor said several Iraqi political and governing council leaders approached the coalition and indicated that, if given a safe passage into the city, they would to try to minimize the bloodshed. "And we believed it prudent to give them the opportunity to do so," Senor said. "We are now waiting to see where that goes."
Senor said the coalition is working to clear the way for the council delegation to get into and out of Fallujah easily to have discussions with leaders there.
"We trying to get access for the delegation; we're trying to get the fighting to stop; we're trying to minimize the bloodshed; and we will go from there," Senor said.
Kimmitt said the Marines in and around Fallujah are maintaining the coalition's unilateral suspension of offensive operations in Fallujah, which was announced April 9. But sporadic fighting continues, he added, started by insurgents.
"In some cases they are attacking, and in some cases just taking pot shots," the general explained. He said it's unclear whether the insurgents have any type of leadership structure, so it's possible those still fighting aren't aware of the cease-fire.
Baghdad has been generally quiet for the past 48 hours, Kimmitt said. He dismissed reports that coalition forces had withdrawn from Baghdad and had lost control of Sadr City to a militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al- Sadr.
"We do not see a significant Sadr militia presence in Sadr City," Kimmitt said. U.S. Army officials report that the Iraqi government in Baghdad has control of that city, he added.
In Kut, the coalition has reestablished control of the city, Kimmitt said. "There was some method or manner of Sadr control over the city for a small period of time," he said, but coalition infantry moved in and now controls "the vast majority" of Kut, he added. "It is clear the people of al Kut appreciate the coalition presence," Kimmitt said, "although many of the people are staying inside of their houses."
Kimmitt also reported that Italian forces have regained control of Nazaria. Though small bands of Sadr militia likely are hiding out there, contact has been negligible, Kimmitt said. The coalition plans to conduct intelligence- based raids to clean up the remaining pockets of resistance, he added.
The most significant presence of Sadr militia is in the towns of Karbala and Najaf, Kimmitt said, where they are mixed in with millions of pilgrims observing the Muslim religious holiday al-Arbaeen, an observance the coalition wants to respect.
"At this point we don't want to go into those cities," Kimmitt said. He said the coalition has forces on the outskirts of both cities, and when the time is right, will re-establish coalition and Iraqi government control.
"We don't we see military actions preferable. We don't see military actions as inevitable," he said. "We seek any resolution that would allow, very simply, restoration of legitimate authority into the towns of Najaf and Karbala."
Kimmitt told reporters that despite small pockets of resistance from Sadr's militia, coalition forces are poised to finish off what remains of them.
"They are no longer an active offensive threat," he said. "They will be a threat for some time to come, but coalition forces certainly have the capability to maneuver forces anywhere in the country to finish the destruction of the militia as long as it remains a threat to the people and progress of Iraq."
Kimmitt said Iraqi and coalition authorities believe the overall security situation is improving. "We're making progress and trying to get back to the most important aspect, and that is to move the political process forward, move the process of handing governance over."
Senor said that earlier this week Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III issued a statement asking for Iraqis to be vigilant of possible terrorist attacks that could occur during this week's religious holiday.
Coalition officials, he said, believe that past insurgent attacks at holy cites have been orchestrated by al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Senor noted Zarqawi has claimed responsibility for past terrorist attacks in Najaf, and most recently for an attack during the religious holiday of Ashoura.
Senor reminded reporters that an intercepted document drafted by Zarqawi laid out a very clear plan for provoking civil war in Iraq, central to which was engaging in terrorist attacks against Shiia at religious holy sites and other parts of the country. The intercepted letter, he said, was meant for delivery outside Iraq to the highest officials of the al Qaeda terrorist network.
The millions of Iraqis observing the al-Arbaeen period, Senor said, are especially vulnerable to the types of terrorist attacks Zarqawi has orchestrated in the past. Senor said he wanted to remind all Iraqis of "being vigilant, being very aware of the very real threat that faces Iraqis, especially many of the religious Shiia during this time."