BAGHDAD (AFP) – US forces have killed an Al-Qaeda kingpin they allege sent 12-year-old Iraqi boys to their deaths as suicide car bombers, they said Wednesday, amid an intense battle with insurgents around Baghdad.
With a large-scale security operation underway within the Iraqi capital, US and local forces are fanning out into a violent belt of small towns around the city in a bid to track down insurgent car bomb factories.
The urgency of the mission was underlined on Monday, when two suicide truck bombers and a gang of gunmen assaulted and partially demolished a US outpost northeast of the capital, killing nine soldiers and wounding 20 more.
Meanwhile, car bombers strike civilians daily in the capital, undermining the security effort, and over the past two days have mounted three suicide attacks in the western city of Ramadi, killing a total of 16 people.
US command said it had identified a suspect killed northwest of Baghdad on April 20 as Muhammad Abdullah Abbas al-Issawi, also known as Abu Akram and Abu Abd al-Sattar, the Al-Qaeda “security emir” in eastern Anbar province.
“Coalition forces were conducting operations targeting associates of a known senior leader within Al-Qaeda in Iraq,” the statement said.
“During the operation the terrorists engaged ground forces with small arms fire. Coalition forces used appropriate self-defence measures and engaged the armed men, killing two and detaining one,” it said.
According to the statement, suicide bomb vests were found at the scene and “intelligence reports also indicate that his VBIED (car bomb) cell used 12- to 13-year-old children as VBIED drivers.”
The statement also alleged that the dead suspect was an associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq who was killed last June in a US air strike.
Monday’s attack on the US base in Al-Sadah in Diyala Province, north of Baghdad, was the deadliest on US ground forces in Iraq for 16 months, and has been claimed by Al-Qaeda in an Internet statement.
On Wednesday, the military released previously unpublished details revealing the ferocity of the assault.
“The enemy attack consisted of small arms fire, followed by the detonation of two explosive-laden trucks, one of which detonated along an outer barrier” of the base, a statement said.
The second truck detonated approximately 30 metres (yards) from the patrol base building. Neither vehicle penetrated the patrol base’s inner perimeter.
“The explosive blast from the second truck ruptured the wall of the patrol base building, collapsing the second floor and, causing the majority of the soldier casualties,” the statement said.
Twenty soldiers from the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, were wounded in the attack, although 15 of them were able to return to service after treatment.
A nearby house and several smaller structures also collapsed under the impact and a civilian hospital and local mosque located approximately 200 metres from the patrol base were also damaged, the statement said.
“This attack is a direct response to our aggressive and persistent operations to target the enemy in Diyala,” said Colonel David Sutherland, US military commander in Diyala.
In the past it has been rare for insurgent groups to mount large-scale assaults on well-fortified and defended American positions.
Now, however, US forces have adopted a more ambitious strategy to take control of areas by building smaller and more vulnerable outposts inside flashpoint areas.
The attack on Monday was the bloodiest assault on US troops on the ground since December 1, 2005 when 10 US marines were killed and 11 wounded by a roadside bomb outside Fallujah in western Iraq.
Diyala province has emerged as one of the fiercest battlegrounds in Iraq, the new focus of Sunni Al-Qaeda fighters who were pushed out of western Iraq and Baghdad by the US and Iraqi security operation.