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U.S. Troops Move Against Iraqi Insurgents

U.S. Troops Move Against Iraqi Insurgents

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Troops flooded a Baghdad neighborhood in a new U.S. military offensive against guerrillas Sunday, as an audiotape purportedly made by Saddam Hussein urged Iraqis to escalate their fight against the occupation.

The U.S. military moves in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq came as the Army tried to determine why two of its Black Hawk helicopters crashed in the northern city of Mosul, killing 17 soldiers in the worst single loss of American life since the war began.

In its offensive, the military fired a satellite-guided missile with a 500-pound warhead at a suspected guerrilla training base, and four insurgents were killed in a separate clash. Both actions are part of an effort to take the fight to the enemy, rather than responding to ambushes and attacks.

"Any of those groups that are working against the best interest of the Iraqis are going to be targeted," said Lt. Col. William MacDonald, spokesman of the 4th Infantry Division.

Strong explosions thundered through central Baghdad after sundown Sunday, apparently part of "Operation Iron Hammer," the new "get tough" strategy.

A large number of U.S. troops, backed by armored vehicles and helicopters, moved into the Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Azamiyah, sealing off a 20-block area and searching vehicles in a show of force.

Meanwhile, the alleged Saddam tape urged Iraqis to escalate attacks against the occupation and "agents brought by foreign armies" -- an apparent reference to Iraqis supporting the coalition.

The speaker on the tape, aired on Al-Arabiya television, said the only way to end the chaos in Iraq was for Saddam and his now outlawed Baath Party to return to power.

The CIA said it would review the tape for its authenticity. But President Bush dismissed the recording.

"I suspect it's the same old stuff. It's propaganda. We're not leaving until the job is done, pure and simple," Bush said. "I'm sure he'd like to see us leave, if in fact it's his voice. I know the elements of the Baathist party, those who used to torture, maim and kill in order to stay in power would like to see us leave."

The voice in the recording resembled Saddam's, but was huskier and the speaker seemed tired.

"The evil ones now find themselves in crisis and this is God's will for them," he said.

The only solution for Iraq, the speaker said, was for "the zealous Iraqi sons, who ran its affairs and brought it out of backwardness ... to return ... to run its affairs anew," he said, referring to the Baath leadership.

The speaker also lashed out at Iraqis who cooperate with the U.S. military, calling them "stray dogs that walk alongside the caravan."

The top U.S. administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, said Saddam likely made some arrangements for a guerrilla war against the Americans before his regime fell in April.

"I think there are some indications that he had prepared for a low-intensity conflict, terrorist war, the kind we're seeing now, beforehand," Bremer said on "Fox News Sunday." "There had been some documents that have come to light since liberation that suggest there were preparations."

In northern Iraq, the U.S. military was investigating whether insurgent ground fire caused the crash of the two U.S. helicopters, which were from the 101st Airborne Division. The aircraft went down in residential neighborhoods of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city.

"There are reports that there may have been ground fire, and one of them may have been trying to avoid that. We just don't know at this point," Bremer said on "Fox News Sunday."

Witnesses said the two aircraft collided, and some said at least one was struck by hostile fire. Military spokesman Col. William M. Darley said the cause of the crash "will be under intense investigation today" and dismissed reports of ground fire as speculation.

All the victims were from the 101st Airborne, which is based in Fort Campbell, Ky., a military spokesman said. Division spokesman Maj. Trey Cate said one helicopter carried a quick response team that was on its way to investigate a shooting incident in which a U.S. soldier was injured. The other helicopter was on a transport mission.

An Iraqi policeman in Mosul said at least one of the Black Hawks was hit by ground fire.

"They hit it with a missile," said policeman Saddam Abdel Sattar. "I was in the army. I know these things."

Another witness said he heard gunfire on the ground before the crash.

"The Black Hawks were in the air and there was shooting. It was dark and one slammed into the other," said an Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldier who identified himself only as Mahmoud.

Before the Saturday crash, the U.S. military's deadliest single incident since the Iraq war began March 20 was the downing of a Chinook helicopter near Fallujah on Nov. 2 that killed 16 soldiers. A Black Hawk was also shot down on Nov. 7 in Tikrit, killing all six soldiers on board.

The Saturday crash raised to 417 the number of Americans who have died in Iraq since the invasion, including combat and non-combat deaths.

Separately, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cautioned on Sunday that the Bush administration plan to establish a provisional Iraqi government by June, ending the American occupation, does not mean not mean U.S. troops will withdraw soon. The issue of troops is "on a separate track" from the political timetable, he said.

On the streets of Iraq, there were mixed feelings.

"I would hope the Americans would leave even before June. We prefer they leave as soon as possible since their staying here causes all the problems," said Hussein Abaid, 52.

But Essai Khallaf Jabar, 48, disagreed.

"It's hard to satisfy all the desires of Iraqi people. Finding a leader is not going to be easy," he said. "I still wish the Americans would stay longer, four or five years, to take care of security."

In other Iraq developments:

-- In Paris, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the U.S. plan to cede power in Iraq by June moves too slowly, and he urged occupation forces to have a provisional government in place by the end of 2003.

-- In Mosul, a roadside bomb detonated under an Army convoy, wounding five soldiers.

-- The military said four Iraqi insurgents were killed late Saturday in two separate clashes with U.S. troops in Diyala province, and U.S. troops fired a missile with a 500-pound warhead at a suspected training base for Saddam loyalists near the northern city of Kirkuk. There was no immediate information on casualties and damage, he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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