| A soldier in the Kirkuk air base prays at a memorial service for Private First Class John D. Amos II who was killed in northern Iraq. (AFP)
Baghdad, April 9 (Reuters): Bloody turmoil reigned in Iraq today, the first anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s fall, with Sunni and Shia rebels battling US-led forces and holding three Japanese and several other foreign hostages.
Fierce fighting that has convulsed the Sunni cities of Falluja and Ramadi reached the western fringe of Baghdad, where insurgents killed nine in an attack on a US fuel convoy, and said they had seized four Italians and two Americans. A Reuters journalist saw two captive foreigners in a mosque in a village in the Abu Ghraib district. One was wounded in the shoulder. Both men were weeping.
At the scene of the convoy attack, a dead foreigner lay on the road with a bloody head as an Iraqi beat him. Teenage fighters with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles lurked on bridges or in derelict lots near the main highway leading west towards the embattled town of Falluja.
Iraq’s US administrator Paul Bremer said American forces had unilaterally suspended operations in Falluja at midday after a crackdown on guerrillas to allow aid in and what would be unprecedented talks with insurgents.
This week’s bloodshed, engulfing the hitherto quiescent Shia south as well as the bastions of Sunni insurgency in central Iraq, has shown how far the US is from securing the country whose dictator it toppled on April 9, 2003.
Iraqis traumatised by 35 years of Baathist rule then hoped Saddam Hussein’s removal would bring them freedom and a better life.
Today they face an uncertain future after 12 months of violence that is sapping a reconstruction drive, hampering oil exports to pay for it and frightening off foreign investors.
In the past week, at least 51 US and allied soldiers and hundreds of Iraqis have been killed in fighting. A British civilian was also killed in Iraq, the foreign office in London said yesterday. He was working for a US security firm.
Baghdad streets were quiet today as many residents feared more violence. “America is the big devil and Britain and Blair are the lesser devils,” a preacher at Baghdad’s Um al-Qura mosque told an angry congregation. Reflecting a growing hostility to outsiders, one worshipper said: “When we get the order for jihad (holy war), no foreigner will be safe in Iraq.”
Britain’s foreign secretary Jack Straw said the situation was the most serious yet faced by US-led occupation forces. “The lid of the pressure cooker has come off,” he told BBC radio.
US-led troops retook the eastern town of Kut two days after Ukrainian soldiers withdrew after clashes with Shia militiamen loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who launched an uprising across southern Iraq this week.
Bremer announced the Falluja ceasefire after five days of street fighting.