Morgue Overflowing After Samarra Offensive

The city is mostly quiet following two days of clashes with insurgents.

By Thomas S. Mulligan and Suhail Ahmed

Los Angeles Times

October 3, 2004

AD DAWR, Iraq — As U.S.-led forces consolidated their control over rebellious Samarra on Saturday, humanitarian officials described a hellish scene within the city in the wake of a two-day offensive by 5,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops.

The morgue in Samarra's main hospital was overflowing, so some of the dead had to be laid out on the floor of an unrefrigerated hall, said Nura abid Bakir, director of the Red Crescent branch in the northern Iraqi province of Salahuddin. She cited reports from Red Crescent volunteers who had been to the hospital.

Military authorities said 125 insurgents had been killed and more than 80 captured in what is likely to be the first of a number of large-scale attempts to quell resistance in rebel hot spots. The crackdown also aims to allow January's national elections to proceed safely and with the broadest possible participation.

The authorities said the city was largely under control. Over two days, one U.S. soldier was killed and four wounded. Three membe rs of the Iraqi security forces also were wounded.

Also on Saturday, an Internet videotape was released that appeared to show members of a group calling itself the Ansar al Sunna Army beheading an Iraqi contracting engineer who worked with the U.S.-led reconstruction effort.

Before the execution, the contractor, wearing a white T-shirt and holding his identification card, was shown reading a statement acknowledging his participation in several infrastructure projects.

Insurgents have used kidnappings, beheadings and other forms of violence to intimidate those cooperating with efforts to pacify and rebuild the country.

In Samarra, the fighting and presence of American snipers on rooftops forced some injured civilians to stay in their homes rather than seek medical treatment and prevented residents from fleeing to a refugee camp set up the day before in the village of Ad Dawr, about 12 miles north of the city, according to Bakir and accounts from witnesses.

Ambulances wer e unable to travel into the neighborhoods to pick up the injured, and in some places bodies lay in the street, witnesses in Ad Dawr said.

"They won't let us deliver water, blankets or medicine, except to the hospital," said Hisham Idrees, another Red Crescent official.

The refugee camp, a small tent village built by the Red Crescent, had received only a handful of Samarra residents as of Saturday afternoon.

Rallied by radio broadcasts from nearby Tikrit describing the plight of Samarra, volunteers in buses and trucks gathered on the northern outskirts of the city to collect refugees, but few residents dared leave their homes while the clampdown on insurgents continued.

"I am not aware of any case where humanitarian aid is being denied to the citizens of Samarra," said Maj. Neal O'Brien, a spokesman for the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division, which is leading the offensive. He added that division officers were working with Salahuddin Gov. Hamud Shukti to increase humanitarian aid .

"We are encouraging people to stay in their homes. However, we are not denying people the right to leave the city," O'Brien said. "There is obvious concern that anti-Iraqi forces and foreign fighters will attempt to leave the city under the cover of refugees, and in some cases use intimidation as a means to gain refuge with families. That is a known technique of the insurgents."

Samarra and Tikrit, the hometown of deposed President Saddam Hussein, lie inside the Sunni Triangle, a stronghold of support for Hussein's Sunni Muslim Baath Party north and west of Baghdad. Also within the triangle are Ramadi and Fallouja, volatile cities west of the capital that are probable targets for future large-scale military incursions.

In Fallouja, the military said it had launched an airstrike about 6 p.m. Saturday against a building on the outskirts of town where 15 to 20 rebels were conducting "military-style training." There was no word on casualties.

That attack followed one a day earli er on a suspected hide-out of insurgents loyal to Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab Zarqawi. Hospital officials said seven were killed and more than 10 wounded in that strike. The town has been struck repeatedly by U.S. warplanes in recent weeks.

Military officials reported an exchange of gunfire in Ramadi on Friday in which soldiers had killed a man suspected of setting off an explosion that had damaged two floors of the newly renovated agricultural center there.

"A positive trace of gunpowder residue consistent with bomb-making material was discovered on the man's clothing and skin," the military said in a statement. The suspect's body was turned over to Iraqi police for identification.

U.S. aircraft again pounded targets in the sprawling Sadr City district of Baghdad on Friday night and early Saturday, as the military continued attacking rebels affiliated with Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr. No deaths were reported. A hospital official said two injured people were treated.

The military also reported Saturday that one U.S. soldier had been killed about 11 p.m. Friday in Baghdad by small-arms fire. No further description of the circumstances was given; officials said the incident was under investigation.

The Defense Department on Saturday identified a solider killed Thursday in a mortar attack in Baghdad: Army Staff Sgt. Darren J. Cunningham, 40, of Groton, Mass., had been assigned to the 89th Military Police Brigade, Ft. Hood, Texas.

Three U.S. soldiers were slightly injured Friday afternoon when a booby trap exploded as their convoy was traveling near Mosul, in northern Iraq.


Ahmed reported from Ad Dawr and Mulligan from Baghdad. Special correspondents in Sadr City, Mosul and Baghdad contributed to this report.