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American Forces Press Service

Nine Deaths in Iraq Won't Deter Coalition, Officials Say

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2004 - Five U.S. soldiers and four civilians were killed in separate attacks today in Iraq, coalition officials reported during a Baghdad news briefing.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy operations director for Combined Joint Task Force 7, said the U.S. soldiers were patrolling northwest of Habbaniyah when their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device. The explosion left a crater measuring 15 by 10 feet, he said.

In a separate incident in Fallujah, Kimmitt said, four coalition contractors traveling in two separate vehicles were killed after coming under attack by grenades and small-arms fire. Officials said U.S. Marines are investigating details surrounding the incident. However, news sources in Baghdad reported this morning that jubilant crowds gathered around the burning vehicles and dragged at least one of the bodies through the streets. No details were available about the civilians' nationalities.

The names of all killed in the attacks were being withheld until their families are notified.

Kimmitt said the nine families - five military, four civilians - will receive knocks on the door today informing them that their loved ones have been killed. "It's tragic, and we grieve with these families," he said.

But to allow these tragedies to deter the coalition from its mission, "to buckle under to a bunch of insurgents" would be the ultimate disgrace to their memories, Kimmitt said.

He called the attacks examples of "a slight uptick in localized engagements" in Iraq, which he said have had a "negligible impact" on the coalition's progress. During the past week, Kimmitt said, daily engagements have averaged 28 per day against coalition military forces, five per day against Iraqi security forces, and just under four per day against Iraqi civilians.

Meanwhile, he said, the coalition is "stepping up its offensive tempo" to kill or capture those instigating the attacks.

Even as the attacks were occurring, Kimmitt, said schools and health clinics were opening, oil output was increasing and critical steps were continuing to be taken to build and restore Iraq's essential services and infrastructure.

Dan Senor, Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman, said 18,000 individual reconstruction projects have been completed in Iraq during the past nine to 10 months. "This averages 75 to 100 projects per day, and the process moves forward," he said.

Kimmitt said Fallujah, a former Baathist stronghold, harbors a small percentage of foreign terrorists and former Saddam Hussein regime elements who "just don't get it" and believe they can "turn back the hands of time" to reverse Iraq's progress toward democracy.

"It's a small minority of the people," he said. "Most of the people want to move forward and be part of the new Iraq."

Kimmitt dismissed a reporter's question whether Fallujah has become too dangerous for coalition activity. "I don't feel that there is any place in this country that coalition forces think is too dangerous to go into," he said.

Like the Army's 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment and 82nd Airborne Division before them, Kimmitt said, members of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force now responsible for the area are "dedicated to going into Fallujah at any time to restore order, to establish a safe and secure environment and to get on with the progress that is being denied to the vast majority of citizens in Fallujah."

Kimmitt said the coalition expects the insurgents to increase their attacks as the countdown continues to the June 30 handover of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

He called today's attack and those likely to be launched in the future - particularly those involving civilians -- as a "sign of desperation" and "cowardice" among foreign terrorists and former regime elements in Iraq.

Those who carry out these attacks "have a different vision for the future of Iraq than the majority of Iraqis," Senor said. Polls consistently show that most Iraqis "are grateful for their liberation," he noted, and anxious for the country's occupation to end.

Paradoxically, he said, polls show that most Iraqis don't want the coalition to leave, presumably due to fears that Iraq's security situation will degrade.

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