Resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq has intensified for a fourth day. On Tuesday 12 U.S. soldiers died in a firefight near Ramadi bringing the US death toll in the last few days to at least 20. Over 150 Iraqis have been killed including 26 in Falluja where US warplanes bombed a residential Sunni area. 16 children and eight women were killed in that attack.
Followers of the young Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr continued their uprising by effectively taken control of Najaf, the Shiite holy city of 500,000. Fighting against US troops also occurred in Baghdad, Basra, Amarah, Nasiriyah, Karbala and Kub.
A nightmare situation for the US is beginning to emerge with Sunni and Shiite Muslims joining together for the first time to oppose the US occupation. One 30-year-old Sunni merchant in Adhamiya told reporters “This is now jihad against the Americans regardless of whether we are Shiites or Sunnis.”
UPI is reporting a leading Sunni sheik has sent the Shiite leader Sadr a letter offering his army to fight the Americans. The sheik Harrath Selman al-Tey wrote, “There is no more Shiite and Sunni, only Muslims and now we will fight each other no more and together fight the same enemy.” The Financial Times is reporting the fighting in Iraq now resembles a Palestinian-style intifada.
The US suffered its biggest military setback of the year Tuesday in the city of Ramadi, west of Falluja. The attack was carried out not by Shiite supporters of Sadr but dozens of Sunni fighters who raided a US base at the governor’s palace. They were armed with RPGs and automatic weapons. The fighting was so intense, Sky News of London at one point reported 130 US Marines might been killed but all subsequent accounts put the death toll at about 12. The US fought back as warplanes fired at homes in Ramadi while troops fought block by block on the ground. Fighting has continued into today. One GI told the Washington Post, “It seemed like everyone in the city who had a gun was out there.”
In Fallajah, U.S. forces called out a weapon rarely used against the Iraqi guerrillas: the AC-130 gunship, a warplane that circles over a target, laying down a devastating barrage of heavy machine gun fire. U.S. forces killed at least 60 Iraqis in Falluja and destroyed four houses. In Kadhimiya Shiite Iraqis killed three U.S. soldiers.
The US military today vowed to “destroy” Sadr’s militia known as the Mehdi Army. But Sadr vowed to die fighting. He said, “America has shown its evil intentions, and the proud Iraqi people cannot accept it. They must defend their rights by any means they see fit.”
And The Bush administration went on the offensive in dealing with the crisis Paul Bremer, the head of the US occupation, and Secretary of State Colin Powell blasted Senator Ted Kennedy for claiming Iraq had become George Bush’s Vietnam. Bremer said, “There is nothing in common with Vietnam.”
President Bush downplayed the resistance as being carried out by “thugs and terrorists” who don’t have values.
The Bush administration also continued to maintain that power would be handed over to Iraq on June 30.
But Senator John Kerry said he is concerned Bush is pushing for the transfer of power solely for political reasons.
Kerry told reporters “I think they wanted to get the troops out, get the transfer out of the way as fast as possible without regard to the stability of Iraq. It is a mistake to set an arbitrary date and I hope that date has nothing to do with the elections here in the United States.”
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said the US was “dangerously close” to losing control in Iraq.
The Washington Post quotes a senior US official involved in Iraq policy saying, “We’ve reached a moment of truth here with both Fallujah and Sadr. We have to get both right or there are serious questions about whether this political transition can go forward.”
The former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said Iraq was better off under Saddam Hussein.”
Blix told a Danish newspaper, “What’s positive is that Saddam and his bloody regime is gone, but when figuring out the score, the negatives weigh more… The war has liberated the Iraqis from Saddam, but the costs have been too great.”