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  Wednesday  July 16  2003    12: 30 PM


New casualties test US resolve

A series of attacks on US forces in Iraq on Wednesday has left one soldier dead and at least five others wounded.

A missile was also fired at an American transport plane as it landed at Baghdad airport in what a spokesperson said was possibly the first such attack during the conflict.

And in another incident, the pro-American mayor of the western Iraqi town of Haditha and one of his sons are reported to have been shot and killed.

The new spate of attacks comes as correspondents say US forces in Iraq are becoming increasingly nervous and desperate to return home.

'Hinesville is the armpit of the world. Right now, I'll take the armpit'
US troops in Iraq who left base 10 months ago are told they must stay longer

The doodles on the desk at the guardhouse tell it all. "Stuck here forever," an angry sergeant at the sand-blown US army base outside this desert town has scrawled with a felt-tip pen, alongside some scatological sketches.

As convoys of Humvees with bored and sweaty soldiers manning roof-mounted machine guns trundle remorselessly past them - out for yet another circular patrol, in for another grim night of Fox TV and no alcohol - the sergeants who man the gates mutter over the glum news.

Ten months after they left their home base in Hinesville, Georgia, for what they thought was going to be a six-month peacetime jaunt in Kuwait, they are in Iraq and staying.

This is the headquarters of the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. Their combat teams have roughly 4,500 soldiers and all were plunged in gloom yesterday. On Monday their commander, Major-General Buford C Blount, told them their tour of duty was not yet over. Their promised return by the end of July had been postponed again.

Families Live in Fear of Midnight Call by US Patrols

NEVER again did families in Baghdad imagine that they need fear the midnight knock at the door.

But in recent weeks there have been increasing reports of Iraqi men, women and even children being dragged from their homes at night by American patrols, or snatched off the streets and taken, hooded and manacled, to prison camps around the capital.

Children as young as 11 are claimed to be among those locked up for 24 hours a day in rooms with no light, or held in overcrowded tents in temperatures approaching 50C (122F).

Remarkably, the Americans have also set up another detention camp in the grounds of the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad. Many thousands of Iraqis were taken there during the Saddam years and never seen again.

Every day, relatives scuff their way along the dirt track to reach the razor wire barricades surrounding Abu Ghraib, where they plead in vain for information about the whereabouts of the missing.

Some, like Ghania Hassan, sink to their knees in despair. She holds a photograph of her eldest son, Mohammed Yasim Mohammed, a 22-year-old student. She said that he was walking through al-Shaab market with friends when passing troops saw him eating biscuits from an American military ration pack and accused him of being a looter. Allegedly he was pushed face down on the street while his friends tried to explain how a soldier a couple of streets away had given them the biscuits.

A month later nothing has been heard of the young man. His mother showed a fistful of letters and petitions that she has collected from US officials, local magistrates and a Muslim cleric, but she and the rest of the complainants were told at gunpoint to move away from the prison gates.

Such behavior merely fuels the growing hostility between local people and the soldiers they had welcomed barely three months ago.

An Iraqi exile who had been in Baghdad for only three days after living in Denmark for the past 27 years found himself caught up in an American swoop after a shooting in a street market. Not realizing that the man could read English, his interrogator made no attempt to cover up his case file, which described him as “suspected assassin”.

The man, who was held for more than 30 days, is afraid to give his name and says that he is now considering leaving Baghdad for good.

Tell me again how things have improved in Iraq?

U.S. having trouble recruiting peacekeepers

France's President ruled out Tuesday sending French troops to Iraq, following India and Germany in rejecting U.S. calls for help without approval from the United Nations.

Although a few nations are sending troops, near daily guerrilla attacks — many of them deadly — and growing doubts about the basis for the war are complicating Washington's search for peacekeepers to replace American troops in Iraq.

In Paris, President Jacques Chirac, a leading opponent of the war said that sending French soldiers to Iraq "cannot be imagined in the current context."