Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Arabs defend Baghdad against US troops

Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians are fighting alongside Iraqi troops against US forces moving on Baghdad, using tactics including suicide bombings which left two Marines dead, US officers said Sunday.

One officer with the 1st Marine Division told AFP US troops fought a 10-hour battle with hundreds of such fighters southeast of Baghdad on Friday.

"We were ambushed twice, and there were four suicide car bombings against tanks," the officer said.

"There were nine casualties, including two Marines killed."

The officer said contact was initially with some 150 black-clad fighters, but by the end of the battle around midnight 300 to 400 had been killed. "They kept bringing them in by the busload," he said. "Itís a whole conglomerate of freedom fighters."

From prisoners, they were revealed to be Egyptians and Syrians, the officer said.

Another officer, Maj. Rod Legowski, First Marine Division liaison to the US Armyís 3rd Infantry Division, said, "Egyptians, Jordanians and Syrians are in the fight alongside Iraqis," as well as other nationalities he did not name.

The US military said yesterday it had captured and killed a number of other foreign fighters during clashes in Iraq.

"Some of these fighters come from Sudan, Egypt, other places and we have killed a number of them and captured a number of them," Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told a briefing at Central Command in Qatar.

Brooks said there was evidence of military "training activities" inside Iraq that increased the likelihood of links between Iraq and "terrorist organizations."

Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said last Tuesday that more than 6,000 volunteers had reached Iraq from the Arab world, while senior Iraqi officials made similar statements last weekend.

While it is difficult to confirm these figures, reports have come in from Cairo to Stockholm of Arabs volunteering to join the battle in Iraq.

As well as the nationalities given by US officers, Lebanese, Palestinians, Algerians and Moroccans have also been cited, while on Thursday dozens of Yemenis were detained as they tried to leave Sanaa on a flight to Damascus, with one-way tickets paid for by the opposition Baghdad-linked Baath Party of Yemen.