Allied Troops Bury Iraqi Dead; American War Deaths Put at 89
Allied troops buried Iraq’s dead in mass graves Friday, while the remnants of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s army roamed or hid in the battle-torn desert--some apparently unaware that the Gulf War had been called off.
An American doctor and a medical specialist were killed by land mines, and U.S. infantrymen exchanged gunfire with Iraqi soldiers shooting from a bus stopped at a checkpoint. Six Iraqis were killed and six wounded, Saudi sources said.
“The battlefield is still a very dangerous area,” said U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Richard I. Neal, deputy operations director of the Central Command. “It’s a very, very dangerous battlefield.”
The danger, Neal said, came from the inability of thousands of scattered Iraqi soldiers, their communications shattered, to know that the fighting is over.
In other developments:
* U.S. military officials increased their count of Americans who died during the war to 89. The total included an additional 10 killed since the beginning of the allied ground assault into Kuwait and Iraq. Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attributed the increase to “a reporting lag.”
* The allied command declined to estimate the number of Iraqi dead, citing too little time during battle to count them. But a count has begun, senior military officials said, and soldiers fanned out across battlefields to bury an “enormous” number of Iraqi victims after trying to identify them.
* Checkpoints were set up on a highway from Kuwait city to the Iraqi city of Basra to screen out fleeing Iraqis suspected of atrocities allegedly committed against Kuwaiti citizens during the occupation. With help from the Kuwaiti resistance, allied forces have drawn up lists of battalions and officers accused of the abuses.
* The United States reopened its embassy in Kuwait city. Saudi and Kuwaiti soldiers celebrated by firing their machine guns into the air. Ambassador Edward (Skip) Gnehm arrived by helicopter at the embassy compound. “I’m proud that I’m an American,” Gnehm said, praising U.S. military personnel for helping “make Kuwait free again.”
* Some Iraqi soldiers hospitalized in Kuwait before hostilities ended were killed with lethal injections, said a woman who claimed she gave the shots. She told Britain’s Independent Television News that she slew 22 of them while working as a volunteer nurse. Her face was masked on camera. She said she wanted to do her part against the enemy.
With cease-fire negotiations scheduled to begin today between Iraqi and American military commanders, allied forces continued to run into pockets of Iraqi soldiers ready to surrender, go home and, in some cases, fight.
“They’re literally everywhere,” said a U.S. military official with access to intelligence reports.
Some were milling about, the official said, and others were “hunkered down” waiting to fight or for their supplies to run out. And by the dozens, many continued to surrender to any outsider who happened by.
The equivalent of five mechanized battalions and three infantry battalions--about 4,800 men--were thought to be making their way northward to the Euphrates River, mostly along back roads in an attempt to go home, U.S. sources said.
Many were allowed to pass through allied lines, their weapons in hand, perhaps because officials did not want to further swell the ranks of Iraqi POWs. Convoys of up to 60 vehicles were spotted traveling north toward Baghdad above the Euphrates. Others who showed “hostile intentions” were disarmed and taken prisoner.
At the Pentagon, Rear Adm. John (Mike) McConnell, intelligence director for the Joint Chiefs, said it was difficult to know how many of the Iraqis traveling north were members of the Republican Guard.
“Over time,” McConnell told reporters, “we’ll probably be able to make some assessment on what’s left. But the point I would highlight for you is even if they’re going north and they are still alive, it is not an effective fighting force. It is not something we have to contend with in the next few months, or six months. . . . “
“Or years,” Kelly added.
“They would have to get somewhere, get organized and get weapons.” McConnell said. “If they do all that, we’ll know about it.”
“And they would have to rearm,” Kelly declared. “They would have to become a team again, which they’re not right now. And as a matter of fact, it’s my strongly held belief that when this defeated army gets back to Baghdad, they’re going to be pretty mad.”
That anger, he said, might contribute to the downfall of Hussein.
A contingent of Iraqi soldiers remains staked out--or stranded--on Bubiyan and Faylakah islands off Kuwait’s coast, pieces of Kuwaiti territory that would have figured in an amphibious landing by U.S. Marines.
Asked whether allied forces planned to round up those Iraqis, one senior officer said, “Eventually. Is anybody in a hurry?”
Using loudspeakers, allied troops who have stepped up their “policing” efforts aimed at ridding the war theater of Iraqi remnants, were trying to spread the word that fighting had been suspended.
Military commanders attributed the confusion among Iraqi troops to the fact that their communication systems had been destroyed. “It’s almost as if there’s such chaos within the hierarchy, the command and control structure, (that) it is sort of everybody on his own,” noted one senior military officer.
The same breakdown in communications that led to Iraq’s disastrous performance on the battlefield caused isolated incidents of hostilities, American officials said.
Early Friday morning, two Iraqi buses were stopped at a U.S. checkpoint on a road north of Kuwait city. As soldiers questioned the occupants of the first bus, shots rang out from the second, Gen. Neal said.
“The first bus seemed to accept what was going on without a problem, but the second bus all of a sudden opened fire on U.S. troops,” he said. “Fortunately, their aim wasn’t too good, and they paid the price.”
Neal said nine Iraqis were captured. He did not mention casualties.
Saudi officials, however, said that six Iraqis were killed and another six were wounded.
Sweeps for mines continued along the desert floor and off Kuwait’s coast. About 120 mines have been destroyed in recent days.
A vehicle carrying an American doctor and a U.S. medical specialist hit a land mine Friday, killing the doctor. The medical specialist got out of the car, stepped on another mine and was killed. The driver was wounded. The group had been traveling across desert terrain to reach a group of Iraqis they thought were surrendering.
Mines, Neal said, “remain a significant threat.” He said Iraq has failed so far to supply coalition forces with information on where mines have been laid.
At the Pentagon, Kelly told reporters that Iraq sometimes surrounded anti-tank mines with anti-personnel mines.
“It’s a tough job to get them out,” he said.
Americans have assigned the grim job of identifying Iraqi dead to five platoons of Arab soldiers.
The platoons, each including 35 to 40 men, were burying the bodies in individual graves after taking photographs, fingerprints and identification papers in an effort to compile a list of the dead.
For the British, soldiers of their 1st Armored Division have begun burying Iraqi dead in mass graves, British Army Col. Barry Stevens said.
All lists of names will be forwarded to the International Red Cross, officials said.
The difficulty in obtaining a death toll for the Iraqis has become frustrating for many reporters. More than half a million Iraqi soldiers were said to have been sent to the war theater--and most still cannot be accounted for, despite a large number of POWs, additional deserters and soldiers who continue to flee.
Atrocities in Kuwait city were said to range from murder, torture and rape to the burning of oil wells and trashing of hospitals.
The Iraqi commander in charge of the occupation of Kuwait city, along with his security forces, apparently escaped ahead of invading allied forces and may elude punishment, a senior U.S. military officer revealed Friday.
The Iraqi commander, identified by the Associated Press as Ali Hassan Majid and said to be a cousin of Hussein, is the same officer who oversaw the use of chemical gas against Iraq’s Kurdish minority, a tactic that killed thousands and was denounced worldwide.
Referring to one feared violation of international law, Neal suggested that American officials may have overestimated Hussein’s ability to launch a chemical attack against the allies. The use of chemicals against troops is specifically forbidden under the rules of the Geneva Convention, to which Iraq is a signatory.
Only two chemical bunkers have been found, according to the Pentagon.
Staff writer William Tuohy, in London, contributed to this story.