BAGHDAD, Iraq # The U.S. military said 35 soldiers were wounded Wednesday in a mortar attack on a logistical base west of Baghdad, marking one of the highest casualty tolls from such attacks.
The extent of the injuries were not immediately released, but the military said the wounded soldiers were evacuated to a field hospital. All of the wounded were members of the 3rd Corps Support Command.
The military said about six mortars struck Logistical Base Seitz around 6:45 p.m. (10:45 a.m. ET). Coalition officials said a living area on the base was struck in the attack.
“The wounded soldiers were given first-aid and have been evacuated from the site for further medical treatment,” a statement from the military said.
The base is within the “Sunni Triangle,” the region most loyal to captured former leader Saddam Hussein.
Insurgents have increasingly fired mortars at U.S. bases in recent months but with relative little success. Few attacks have inflicted casualties.
On the same day of the attack, the American civilian administrator for Iraq talked of a time for reconciliation as he announced the U.S.-led coalition will begin releasing certain detained Iraqis this week.
“To give impetus to those Iraqis who wish to reconcile with their countrymen, we are announcing today that the coalition will permit hundreds of currently detained Iraqis to return to their homes and to their families,” U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer said at Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Baghdad.
Officials with the provisional authority said the process would begin Thursday, with about 100 detainees signing declarations and arranging for guarantors before their release.
But it could take time to process the prisoners before they are allowed to walk free, according to Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition’s deputy chief of operations.
As many as 500 detainees could be released by the end of the week, according to coalition officials. About 12,000 detainees are in facilities across Iraq, officials said.
Bremer said avenues also are being explored to provide greater family access to those under coalition detention.
He said detainees must meet several requirements to gain freedom but that two are essential.
“First, the person released must renounce violence,” Bremer said. “Second, the person released must have a guarantor, such as a prominent person in his community or a religious or tribal leader who will accept responsibility for the good conduct of the individual being set free.”
He said people accused of violent crimes are not eligible for the program. He noted the coalition will still pursue outlaws. (Full story)
To that end, Bremer announced a new rewards program for wanted Iraqis in addition to an existing plan to pay millions for higher-profile members of Saddam Hussein’s former regime.
“We will offer up to $200,000 in rewards for information leading to the capture of lesser criminals or information that that person is dead,” he said.
Remains likely from ’91 uprising
A new mass grave site in Iraq has been discovered recently about 30 miles (48 kilometers) south of Baghdad, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
About 800 victims from the Shiite Muslims’ 1991 failed uprising against Saddam are believed to be buried at the southern Iraq site. Without the support of coalition forces that had driven Saddam out of Kuwait in the Persian Gulf War, the uprising was crushed and thousands killed.
U.S. officials said they have identified about 670 mass grave sites across the country.
Coalition authorities are investigating additional sites, including one that soldiers discovered December 24 in the Al Anbar region of west-central Iraq. The troops secured an area northwest of Iskandariyah following a report of mass graves there, according to U.S. Central Command.
• A British soldier was killed Wednesday in a “tragic incident” on a training range near Basra, the southern Iraqi city under British control, the UK Ministry of Defense said. Details were not released. “The incident is under investigation,” a British defense spokesman said. The death brings to 56 the number of British soldiers killed in the war in Iraq.
Maj. Tim Kehoe hugs his wife, Jennifer, upon his return Wednesday to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
• About 200 soldiers from the U.S. 101st Airborne Division returned Wednesday to their home post at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, after spending almost a year in Iraq, The Associated Press reported. They are part of an advance team of about 600 soldiers scheduled to return this week to prepare for the homecoming of 20,000 soldiers from the division. (Full story)
• PepsiCo Inc. has reached a deal with one of its former Iraqi bottlers to sell Pepsi Cola in Iraq for the first time since the United Nations imposed sanctions in 1990, according to The Wall Street Journal. The company will reportedly start shipping beverage concentrate and glass bottles to the country in a few months. (Full story)
• Iraqi police fired shots Tuesday at a group of about 6,000 former soldiers who tried to enter a bank in the southern city of Basra after demanding pensions and stipends. A British military spokesman said at least one former soldier suffered a gunshot wound in the leg. At least two people were wounded, witnesses said. There were no reports of any deaths.
• U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday he expects senior U.S. officials to attend a three-way meeting in New York on January 19 to discuss the future role of the United Nations in Iraq. Annan called for such a meeting with U.S. and Iraqi officials in December. Adnan Pachachi, current president of the Iraq Governing Council, will lead the Iraq delegation.