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Middle East

More attacks seen on troops

| Thursday, Oct. 23, 2003

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) -- Iraqi insurgents stepped up attacks on U.S. troops in recent weeks, the commander of American forces said Wednesday, as ambush bombers struck again in this tense Sunni Muslim area west of Baghdad, in the northern city of Mosul and in the heart of the capital.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez said some of the attacks may be carried out by people with links to al-Qaida, but he added "we don't have any confirmed al-Qaida operatives in custody at this point."

Elsewhere, U.S. troops of the 4th Infantry Division arrested more than a dozen suspects, including a former major general, in pre-dawn raids north of Baghdad.

The Baghdad bombing, which occurred as a convoy passed through a tunnel in the center of the capital, slightly injured two U.S. soldiers, who were returned to duty after treatment, a U.S. officer reported.

In Fallujah, witnesses said four Americans were carried away on stretchers after a roadside bomb exploded beside a three-vehicle convoy. The U.S. military in Baghdad had no report on the incident.

After the attack, residents cheered and swarmed over one disabled vehicle, looting its contents and setting it afire. It was the third attack against American troops in the Fallujah area in as many days.

Elsewhere, one soldier from the 101st Airborne Division was slightly injured when a bomb exploded in front of his convoy in Mosul, 225 miles north of Baghdad, the military said.

Sanchez, the American commander, acknowledged that attacks against his troops have increased in the last three weeks, especially in Anbar province that includes Fallujah.

"The number of wounded and the number of engagements in the last three weeks have been a little bit higher than we've seen before," Sanchez said. "We've had an average number of engagements from 20 to 25 (daily). We've seen a spike up to 35 in last three weeks."

Sanchez said he believed operatives of the extremist Ansar al-Islam, a group linked to al-Qaida, as well as members of Osama bin Laden's organization are operating inside Iraq.

"We have arrested members of Ansar al-Islam," he said. "We know there are organizations that have links back to al-Qaida but we don't have any confirmed al-Qaida operatives in custody at this point. We do have some al-Qaida-linked personnel in our custody. They continue to operate. We know that they're here. We know where they're operating, what areas they're operating in."

He did not elaborate.

Sanchez also attributed the increase in part to combat activity in Anbar province, which extends from the Euphrates River valley to the Jordanian, Syrian and Saudi borders. The most populated part of the province is the responsibility of the 82nd Airborne Division.

"Before the 82nd came in, we very clearly stated we were going out to the west," Sanchez said. "We've been in combat force posture out in Anbar province. We knew this was an area that was a challenge for us. And we clearly stated back then there was still a lot of fighting to be done. And there would be an increase in engagements."

The raids by the 4th Infantry Division were centered around Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit and in Baqouba, about 30 miles northeast Baghdad. U.S. officers said an Iraqi major general, who was not identified, was seized in the Baqouba operation.

In Tikrit, 10 suspects, including six people believed linked to the Iraqi resistance, were taken into custody, the military said.

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