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Tikrit shakes in US assault

Tikrit, Nov. 17 (Reuters): US troops unleashed tank and mortar fire at suspected guerrilla hideouts in Saddam Hussein’s hometown overnight, after the broadcast of an audio tape purportedly from the fugitive dictator urging holy war.

Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division’s 1-22 Battalion fanned out through Tikrit, and the ground shook as US shells hit positions which commanders said were used by guerrillas to fire rockets or mortar bombs at the US base in the town.

“For us this is not a display, we want to get the enemy,” said 1-22 Battalion commander Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Russell. “The message is: ‘Give up, it’s over’.” Flares lit up the sky and attack helicopters clattered overhead.

In one attack, four M1A1 Abrams tanks perched on top of a desert cliff fired on targets in the fields below.

Lieutenant-Colonel William MacDonald, spokesman for the 4th Infantry Division, said the barrage comprised 38 co-ordinated attacks, and included firing a GPS-guided missile with a 500-pound warhead at a guerrilla sanctuary south of Tikrit.

MacDonald said the co-ordinated attacks destroyed 15 guerrilla safehouses, three training camps and 14 mortar firing positions. Soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division also killed six insurgents who attacked them in separate incidents, he said.

On the western outskirts of Baghdad, US soldiers cordoned off a section of the Abu Ghraib neighbourhood and went from house-to-house searching for weapons and ammunition after attacks on troops in the area.

US forces in Iraq have adopted tough new tactics this month in response to deadly guerrilla attacks and the downing of several American helicopters. On Saturday night, two US Black Hawks collided and crashed under fire in the northern city of Mosul, killing 17 soldiers.

Dubai-based Al Arabiya television broadcast an audio tape yesterday said to be from Saddam, which exhorted Iraqis to drive occupying troops from their country.

US troops hunting guerrillas have captured a former Iraqi special forces officer and militia leader suspected of staging attacks on American troops in the “Sunni triangle” region around Baghdad, the US army said today.

In a statement, the army said Kathim Mohammad Faris, described as “a former Iraqi Special Forces officer and a fidayeen leader believed to be responsible for improvised explosive device attacks and ambushes on coalition forces”, was captured in the town of Habbaniya on Saturday.

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