Published August 12, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Members of three Islamic groups stepped forward on Saturday to claim responsibility for a number of recent guerrilla attacks that have left several U.S. soldiers dead and scores of others injured in Baghdad.
The five men, all with their faces covered and wearing red scarves, made their boasts on a videotape aired by Arab television station Al-Arabiya (search). They urged fellow group members to follow suit and attack all foreign soldiers stationed in the region as a means of showing the world that they are against the occupation of Iraq.
"We want to tell other organizations that guerrilla warfare is the only way to free the country and we want to say that foreign troops who were sent here must be attacked to prove to the world that we are against the occupation," said one of the men.
That development capped a busy, yet fruitful 48 hours for coalition forces. Earlier in the day, senior defense officials confirmed that former Iraqi Minister of the Interior Mahmud al-Ahmad (search), listed as number 29 on the coalition's "Iraqi Top 55" most-wanted list, was in the custody of coalition forces.
Al-Ahmad was next in line to succeed Saddam Hussein (search), following the deaths of the deposed leader's sons, Uday and Qusay. Officials said Al-Ahmad surrendered in Baghdad on Friday. The capture of the once-elusive henchman brought the number of network operatives now either dead or being held by the U.S. military to 37.
Also on Saturday, acting on a tip from a native Iraqi, troops seized and destroyed a cache of high-powered weapons and explosives, among them 24 rocket-propelled grenades and a surface-to-air launcher missile. U.S. troops also captured 13 Saddam loyalists with 47 AK-47s, the military said.
Shortly after Saturday's videotaped threat, troops came under renewed attacks that left at least four soldiers injured, as a team of FBI investigators prepared to take control of the probe into the car bombing of the Jordanian Embassy (search).
Soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade (search) on patrol in the northern city of Kirkuk (search) were fired on with a rocket-propelled grenade and small arms throughout the day, said Lt. Col. Bill McDonald, spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division operating in the area.
Two soldiers were wounded in the explosion and were in stable condition, McDonald said. The troops returned fire, he said.
In yet another confrontation, soldiers west of Kirkuk opened fire on a car that ran a military checkpoint, wounding two Iraqis, McDonald said. The victims were evacuated to a Kirkuk hospital in stable condition, he said.
In south-central Baghdad, two soldiers were wounded in a roadside bomb attack on their armored Humvee (search) vehicle, said Maj. Todd Mercer of the 82nd Airborne Division.
In the southern city of Basra (search), which is controlled by British troops, about 1,000 angry residents protested in the streets over the lack of power, water and gas.
Witnesses told Associated Press Television News that three British soldiers were injured by stones, and two young Iraqi boys were wounded in the melee. A British military spokesman denied any soldiers were hurt.
Thursday's bombing of the Jordanian Embassy, which killed 19 people and injured at least 50 raised fears that Al Qaeda-linked terrorists were at work in Iraq. The bombing was the first large-scale terrorist attack since Baghdad fell to U.S. forces April 9.
Authorities are looking at Ansar al-Islam, which U.S. officials claim is linked to Al Qaeda, as a potential suspect, according to Lt. Gen. Norton Schwartz, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The one organization that we have confidence and that we know is in Iraq and in the Baghdad area is Ansar al-Islam," he said. "It is unknown whether this particular organization was associated with the (bombing). Perhaps that'll become clear as we go down the road.
"But that is an Al Qaeda-related organization and one that we are focusing attention on," Schwartz said.
Fewer than a dozen FBI agents were dispatched to secure and analyze evidence. They also will train Iraqi investigators. It was not clear when the team would begin work or how long it would stay.
"We will do all we can to help the Iraqi authorities find these people and bring them to justice," L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator of Iraq, said in a press release distributed by the Pentagon.
The Bush administration fears Iraqi police don't have the techniques or tools to properly investigate the deadly attack, according to a senior Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity from Washington.
So far, American authorities have said, they do not believe terrorist groups like Ansar or any other foreign fighters have played a major role in the guerrilla war against American occupation forces.
They believe instead that the attacks are the work of remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime — his Republican Guard, Fedayeen militia and intelligence services.
Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Ansar al-Islam was known for bombings and assassinations of Kurdish figures. But the group, which has included veterans of Usama bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, has not previously been linked to attacks on the scale of the embassy blast.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the group was a link between Baghdad and Al Qaeda when he made his case for war to the U.N. Security Council in February. Others have questioned whether there was any connection to Saddam Hussein's regime.
U.S. forces knocked out Ansar-al-Islam's main headquarters in northeastern Iraq early in the war. Bremer has said the group has been rebuilding in the country, with surviving members filtering back from Iran.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.