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2003-11-03

16 U.S. Soldiers Killed in Missile Attack in Iraq

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In the deadliest attack on U.S. troops since the start of the invasion, Iraqi resistance fighters downed a helicopter Sunday killing 16 U.S soldiers and injuring 20. We go to Baghdad to speak with Christian Science Monitor’s Dan Murphy. [Includes transcript]

Click here to read to full transcript In the deadliest attack on U.S. troops since the start of the invasion, Iraqi resistance fighters downed a helicopter Sunday killing 16 U.S soldiers and injuring 20. The soldiers were being taken out of Iraq on a short-term leave.

The shoulder-fired missile attack occurred near Falluja, west of Baghdad. It came a day after the sixth-month anniversary of President Bush’s initial May 1st announcement that major combat operations had ended in Iraq. A total of 379 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq, two-thirds of the deaths have occurred after May 1st.

Roadside bombs killed three other Americans on Sunday: two civilians working as private contractors were killed in Fallujah and a soldier was killed in Baghdad.

27 U.S. soldiers have died in the past week, the highest total since the fall of Baghdad.

The Washington Post reported that Iraqis celebrated the downing of the helicopter. One truck driver told the Post, "Why are the Americans here? They’re just showing off their muscles. Force creates force."

Another Iraqi added, "an honest man who does not like to be occupied by foreigners."

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: I’m Amy Goodman. Reading from Dan Murphy’s piece in the "Christian Science Monitor" today, he is in Baghdad where we will speak with him, he says, Sunday was the deadliest day for the U.S. forces in Iraq since the occupation began here six months ago. A string of ambushes underscored the biggest challenges before America as it seeks to pacify Iraq. Developing intelligence and training friendly Iraqi forces in order to stem the rise in attacks. At least 15 U.S. soldiers were killed and 21 wounded when the Chinook helicopter transferring them to Baghdad airport for two weeks of home-leave was reportedly shot down near the town of Fallujah where attacks on coalition forces have soared in recent weeks. Coalition spokesman Colonel William Darley said reports of a missile attack are unconfirmed. The Associated Press and Reuters cited witnesses who saw a shoulder-launched missile strike the helicopter. Well, since Dan Murphy has written this piece, 16 U.S. soldiers have been confirmed dead. Dan Murphy joins us on the line from Baghdad . Welcome to Democracy Now!, Dan.

DAN MURPHY: Thanks, for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us the latest of what you know and exactly what happened and then we’ll talk about what’s happening in Fallujah?

DAN MURPHY: I think, you know, what I can tell you is that, you know, it was obvious that it was shot down by a shoulder-fired missile, some sort of a SAM and that has been confirmed. There’s no question about it. As you mentioned, the death toll was increased and you know for the soldiers, it really is a tragic story because Fallujah is the center in many ways of fighting and resistance here. A lot of those guys were — and women, perhaps as well — were going home to finally get some leave.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about who these soldiers were, and talk about what their plans were going to the airport?

DAN MURPHY: I cannot say too much about it. I haven’t had a whole lot of contact with them. But you know again, they’re from the 82nd airborne, and there are maybe as many as a dozen attacks in and around Fallujah every day. It is in the so-called Sunni triangle. And troops have had a bad relationship with locals there almost from the get-go. So, my understanding is that operating there is very tense and very dangerous environment, unlike some other parts of Iraq. There’s no question that these soldiers, many of whom from out west, you know, would have been delighted to be getting away from the inferno for a little while. It just didn’t work out for a lot of them.

AMY GOODMAN: You write in your piece about a Saturday news conference held by the overseer in Iraq, the U.S. Overseer Bremer and the commander of forces on the ground Lieutenant General, Richardo Sanchez saying that they were upbeat and that General Sanchez called the recent string of attacks on his forces operationally and strategically insignificant surge of attacks, this right before the helicopter attack.

DAN MURPHY: Yes. I mean, of course, in the past week, in addition to suicide bombings in Baghdad on Monday, you know, there’s been a surge of daily attacks, you know, with explosives on the roadsides and small ambushes, probably averaging anywhere from 30 to 35 attacks a day, and that’s up from the neighborhood of 20 a day in September. You know, he didn’t describe them in those terms, but they rely on these helicopters to move troops around the country and so far, they have really felt that helicopters were safer than the roads because they do come under so much gunfire and they do hit mines occasionally on the roads. You know, obviously, they are all going to have to rethink their approaches now in light of what has happened. That is in fact, I imagine, although I’m not a military man strategically and operationally significant. There are always pains in news conferences to put the best face on what’s happening here. But, you know, the simple fact is it’s become a much more dangerous place for the coalition in recent weeks and over the past month or six weeks.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Dan Murphy of the "Christian Science Monitor" in Baghdad. Dan, you just came out with a piece a few days ago about an October 16 crackdown on a rogue group of Iraqi leaders that illustrates the challenges the Coalition Forces face while trying to deal in Iraq. Can you talk about what happened in Sadr city.

DAN MURPHY: The simple fact of the matter is that when the troops came into Sadr city and dozens off other places around Iraq, they decided they wanted to have something like local representative councils that would have some veneer of legitimacy or sovereignty for Iraqi people. They went around with loudspeakers on the Humvees and invited people to attend meetings that they were applying to select their own leaders. And there was some — as well as to the people that did participate in those meetings. I do believe especially in a place like Sadr city which is very poor and is a center — you know it is mostly Shiite, a lot of the religious leaders in town weren’t included in the council, the coalition set up. Some of the local folks, including a very radical preacher in the area came — [he brought] a tribal council up — And you sort of had dueling councils each side saying, "I’m more legitimate than you are," and the simple fact is that neither side is legitimate because there have not been elections and the Iraqi people’s voice has not been heard yet. The point of the story was to point out the trouble we get ourselves into when we begin to speak about legitimacy and sovereignty before there is any.

AMY GOODMAN: So you write, first U.S. Soldiers helped select representatives to work in the district council building, then supporters of a radical Shiite cleric kicked them out and installed a rival council. Today the Sadr city council building stands empty. Two American tanks and yards of concertina wire seal this experiment in Iraqi self-rule off for more controversy, which resulted in one council meeting in private and another being arrested and disbanded by coalition forces. And then you have the situation where the U.S. is calling for the Constitution of Iraq to be written within six months, but that means an unelected body writing it, and the Iraqis calling for democracy saying they want an elected body first before the foundation of their government is written.

DAN MURPHY: Well, I mean, not only the Iraqis, but, you know, almost anybody who has dealt with these post-conflict, you know, these sort of intensely transitional states will say that the rule is, again, the governing council is completely appointed, although they did try to make it representative. If you try to force constitutions through without any kind of elected legitimacy first, you know, you could very easily have some elected body in a year or two years stacking it and starting over again. A big part of why there’s so much concern that there not be an election to choose a constitution — well, the first part of it is they simply think it will take a lot of time. The second issue they don’t talk about as much is they worry that the nation’s Shiite majority, 60% of the people, who were incredibly oppressed under Saddam, will dominate the process, and will end up writing a constitution that is injurious to minority interests, particularly to Kurds in the north and the Sunni Arabs who did better or relatively better under Saddam. That concern is legitimate and hopefully, they will be able to work it out. But as you point out, you know, I would be very, very concerned, that an unelected body writing the constitution could be a recipe for trouble down the road.

AMY GOODMAN: Dan Murphy, I want to thank you very much for being with us in Baghdad with the "Christian Science Monitor."


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