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Female Troops Face Hostile Fire in Iraq | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -The lethal ambush of a convoy carrying female U.S. troops in Fallujah underscored the difficulties of keeping women away from the front lines in a war where such boundaries are far from clear-cut.

The suicide car bomb and ensuing small-arms fire killed at least two Marines and four others were missing and presumed dead. At least one woman was killed and 11 of 13 wounded were female.

The ambush late Thursday also suggested Iraqi insurgents may have regained a foothold in Fallujah, which has been occupied by U.S. and Iraqi forces since they regained control of the restive city from insurgents seven months ago.

The women were part of a team of Marines assigned to various checkpoints around Fallujah. The Marines use females at the checkpoints to search Muslim women &#34in order to be respectful of Iraqi cultural sensitivities,&#34 a military statement said. It is considered insulting for men to search female Muslims.

The terror group al-Qaida in Iraq claimed it carried out the ambush, one of the single deadliest attacks against the Marines — and against women — in this country. The high number of female casualties spoke to the lack of any real front lines in Iraq, where U.S. troops are battling a raging insurgency and American women soldiers have taken part in more close-quarters combat than in any previous military conflict.

&#34It”s hard to stop suicide bombers, and it”s hard to stop these people that in many cases are being smuggled into Iraq from outside Iraq,&#34 President Bush said at a joint White House news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Friday.

Current Pentagon policy prohibits women from serving in front line combat roles — in the infantry, armor or artillery, for example. But an increasing number of female troops have been exposed to hostile fire.

Thirty-six female troops have died since the war began, including the one that was announced Friday, said Maj. Michael Shavers, a Pentagon spokesman. Thirty-four were Army, one Navy and one Marine. Most have died from hostile fire.

More than 11,000 women are serving in Iraq, part of 138,000 U.S. troops in the country, said Staff Sgt. Don Dees, a U.S. military spokesman.

Thursday”s attack may have been the single largest involving female U.S. service members since a Japanese suicide pilot slammed his plane into the USS Comfort near the Philippines in 1945, killing six Army nurses, according to figures from the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.

Three Army women were among 28 U.S. troops who died during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 when a Scud missile struck a Marine barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, the Washington-based foundation said on its Web site. The three were among a total of 16 women who died in Desert Storm. Four were killed by hostile fire.

One woman was listed as killed in action during the Vietnam War, two women died in the USS Cole bombing in 2000 and eight military women died at the Pentagon during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the foundation said.

In Thursday”s attack, the Marines were returning to their base, Camp Fallujah, when the ambush took place near the eastern entrance to the city, 40 miles west of Baghdad.

Fallujah is a former insurgent stronghold invaded by U.S. forces at great cost last November. It is also the city where an Iraqi mob hung the mutilated bodies of two U.S. contractors from a bridge. On Nov. 2, 2003, two female Army soldiers were in a Chinook helicopter shot down over Fallujah.

The State Department says about 90,000 of Fallujah”s 300,000 residents have recently returned to the city, which benefited from Saddam Hussein”s 23 years in power, as did other cities in the Sunni-dominated area north and west of Baghdad. The former dictator, himself a Sunni, recruited many Republican Guard officers and security agents from the area.

Lance Cpl. Holly A. Charette, 21, from Cranston, R.I., died in the attack, the Defense Department said Friday. She was assigned to Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

A male Marine was also killed in the ambush, the military said. His family identified him as Cpl. Chad Powell, 22, from northern Louisiana. It was unclear how he was killed.

The military did not provide the genders of the missing three Marines and a sailor who were believed to be in the vehicle that was attacked. They were presumed dead, said a U.S. military official in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity because the victims have not been identified.

The attack, which raised the death toll among U.S. military members since the beginning of the war to 1,732, came as Americans have grown increasingly concerned about a conflict that has shown no signs of abating. One year ago, 842 U.S. service members had died in Iraq, compared to 194 on that date in 2003.

The relentless carnage has killed more than 1,250 people since April 28, when al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-dominated government. With the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency targeting the Shiite majority, the wave of killings has slowly been pushing the country toward civil war. In one such sectarian killing, gunmen on Friday killed an aide to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq”s most revered Shiite cleric. Police said two bodyguards were also killed trying to protect Shiite cleric Samir al-Baghdadi, who represented al-Sistani in Baghdad”s predominantly Shiite al-Amin district.

Elsewhere, gunmen ambushed a police patrol in western Iraq, killing eight policemen and wounding one on Friday, police and hospital officials said Saturday. The attack happened in the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, Dr. Munim al-Kubaisi and Dr. Mohammed al-Ani said. The area is an insurgent stronghold and the police officers were assigned to protect highways on the city”s outskirts.

On Saturday, gunmen killed two policemen patrolling western Baghdad and wounded three others, police 1st Lt. Thaer Mahmoud said. The victims belonged to a commando unit, he said.

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AFP photo

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