U.S. C-130 transport survives SAM attack near Baghdad

Thursday, July 17, 2003

The U.S. military in Iraq has come under an increasing threat from surface-to-air missiles.

U.S. officials said Iraqi insurgents fired a surface-to-air missile toward a C-130 air transport that landed at Baghdad International Airport.

Officials said the latest SAM attack could signal the arrival of Soviet-origin man-portable missiles to insurgents. They said missiles could be arriving from one of Iraq's neighbors, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia or Syria.

The aircraft was not hit in the missile attack on Wednesday and landed safely, Middle East Newsline reported.

Coalition troops searched the area from where the missile was believed to have been fired. Officials said this was the second surface-to-missile attack in as many weeks and came after three months when no such strikes were reported.

Officials said U.S. forces in Iraq have been warned that Sunni insurgents have obtained such SAM missiles as the SA-7. They said the U.S. Air Force has severely restricted the landing of air transports at Iraqi airports.

Sunni insurgents, organized into regional commands, have increased their use of mortars and rocket-propelled grenades over the last few weeks in what appears to be an offensive against U.S. forces in the Sunni Triangle and the Baghdad area.

On Wednesday, a U.S. soldier from the 3rd Corps Support Command was killed in an RPG strike on a military convoy west of Baghdad.

"We're seeing a cellular organization of six to eight people, armed with RPGs, machine guns, et cetera, attacking us at times and place of their choosing," U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid said. "And other times we attack them at times and places of our choosing. They are receiving financial help from probably regional-level leaders."

The intensification of the Sunni strikes has disrupted efforts to reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq. Abizaid reported 148,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq and said this level could be increased. U.S. allies in Iraq, particularly Britain, maintains another 13,000 troops.

The U.S. commander said the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are expected to submit a rotational plan next week. He said brigades of the army's 3rd Infantry Division are expected to be leave Iraq in September and would be replaced by other army units. The general said the division fought harder and better than any other military unit in recent U.S. history.

"For the next couple of weeks that needs to be the size of the force," Abizaid said. "If the situation gets worse, I won't hesitate to ask for more [troops]."

Abizaid, who acknowledged the increasingly public complaints of U.S. troops, said military units could remain in Iraq for as long as one year to ensure the stability of the force structure. He said the the U.S. Army deployed the First Armored Division for a year in Bosnia.

In another attack, the U.S.-appointed mayor of the Sunni city of Haditha was killed on Wednesday. Haditha is a city of 150,000 people and the mayor, Ali Mohammed Nayel Jughaify, was criticized for cooperating with the United States.

"Again, as the governing council is forming, as progress is being made in self- governance, we're seeing now mayors, apparently, being targeted," Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said.

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