U.S. Prepares for Major Fallujah Operation


New York Times

October 29, 2004

Filed at 12:03 p.m. ET

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. forces are gearing up for a major operation against the insurgent stronghold Fallujah, a U.S. general said Friday, as hundreds of British troops reached a base near Baghdad to free American forces to join the assault.

``We're gearing up to do an operation and when were told to go we'll go,'' Brig. Gen. Dennis Hejlik, deputy commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said at a camp near Fallujah. ``When we do go, we'll whack them.''

Hejlik's comments confirmed that plans are underway for a major assault on insurgent strongholds west of Baghdad in an effort to end the wave of car bombings, kidnappings and attacks that has escalated since Fallujah fell under guerrilla control last spring.

U.S. officials have given no indication of the timing of a major attack. However, in a sign that the assault may be imminent, the first wave of troops from the Black Watch regiment has arrived at the base near Baghdad, the Defense Ministry in London.

The rest of the 850-strong battle group from the Black Watch regiment were to arrive over the weekend, the ministry said without specifying how many were in each wave. The base is located 20 miles west of Mahmoudiya, a town that has seen frequent insurgent attacks south of Baghdad, according to the report.

The Americans asked for the deployment in order to free up American forces for a new assault on Sunni insurgents who have taken control of Fallujah and a number of towns north and west of Baghdad.

Clashes were reported Friday on the northeast edge of Fallujah and in Ramadi -- an almost daily occurrence as the showdown with the insurgents looms.

The decision to agree to the U.S. request for redeployment is a politically sensitive one for Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose popularity has plummeted because of his support for the Iraq war.

A first convoy of troops and heavy equipment arrived at the base, known as Camp Dogwood, by land Thursday, slowed by roadside bombs along the way.

A blast went off 10 miles south of the base as the convoy passed, forcing several trucks off the road but causing no casualties, according to a pool report by a Daily Express correspondent embedded with the convoy. More bombs were discovered and defused.

Many Britons fear the troops will be in much greater danger, since the region has seen far more violence than the Basra area, where the bulk of Britain's 8,500 troops in Iraq are based. Sixty-eight British soldiers have been killed in Iraq, compared to more than 1,100 American troops.

Black Watch soldiers have been told by their commanders that their deployment will be for a maximum of 30 days. Officials have refused to say which, if any, regiment might replace them.

``I'm nervous and angry,'' said Pvt. Manny Lynch, 19, of the Black Watch, according to the Daily Express pool report. ``I was supposed to be going home last Monday and I only found out that I was being deployed four days before.''

In other violence Friday, two car bombs in the northern city of Mosul targeted two U.S. patrols, killing an Iraqi civilian and lightly wounding five U.S. soldiers, according to the U.S. military and hospital officials.

A Turkish truck carrying bottled water was also attacked in the city, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing the driver and leaving the vehicle engulfed in flames, according to witnesses and Mosul police.

In Baqouba, Aqil Hamid al-Adili, an assistant to the governor of Diyala province, was killed by gunmen as he was sitting in a friend's office, according to police Lt. Hussein Ali.

Days earlier, al-Adili had warned of insurgent infiltration in the Iraqi security forces after a deadly ambush in which 50 U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers were killed near the Iran border last weekend.

In Japan, the government struggled Friday to track down a Japanese hostage in Iraq, as the deadline passed for it to comply with the demands of militants who threatened to behead him.

An al-Qaida-linked group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi vowed on Tuesday to kill Shosei Koda within 48 hours unless Japan withdrew its troops from Iraq. Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi rejected that demand.

The deadline passed early Friday with no word on Koda's fate.

``We are worried because it has been a long time,'' said Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

High-ranking officials gathered earlier at Koizumi's office for an emergency meeting after the China News Service ran a report that a body, believed to be Asian, had been discovered in Iraq. But Iraq's Interior Ministry later said the body belonged to an Iraqi man.