FALLUJAH, April 7 — U.S. forces fired missiles at a mosque in the flashpoint city of Fallujah Wednesday after taking several hours of fire from insurgents who were using it as cover to attack Marines advancing through the city.
Five Marines had been shot from the mosque before commanders authorized the use of air power and laser-guided missiles against it. They had rejected the air attack several times, according to Marine officers and radio communications monitored from a command post by a Washington Post reporter.
“We’ve got to be careful,” said one officer receiving a request for air support from the Marines around the mosque.
“We have some bad folks dug in,” came the response. “They’re creating a problem for us. What should we do? We need backup.”
“We need regimental approval,” came the reply.
Not long afterwards, a spokesman at the command post said the air support was authorized. A spokesman said the missiles were fired from a helicopter and a jet.
Neither the number of people inside at the time nor the number injured in the air strike could be determined.
The mosque was one of two that insurgents had used during fighting Wednesday in Fallujah, where four American contractors were killed and mutilated a week ago. The Marines managed to clear the second mosque without air power.
U.S. military operations and firefights raged across Iraq Wednesday from Fallujah to the Syrian border to the Baghdad suburbs, with military authorities reporting the deaths of a significant number of Iraqi and foreign insurgents, as well as the deaths of one additional soldier and the 12 U.S. Marines killed in action Tuesday night.
Pool video footage from Fallujah, the site of a Marine offensive since Monday, showed buildings in rubble as Marines there continued to engage in firefights with insurgents in the mostly Sunni city 35 miles west of Baghdad.
Unconfirmed wire service reports from Fallujah said there were significant numbers of civilian fatalities and casualties, with pleas going out for blood donations.
Marines in Fallujah have been returning fire at gunmen positioned on rooftops, in windows and in doorways.
In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief military spokesman in Iraq, vowed to destroy the Mahdi Army, a militia led by Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr that is based in the slums of Sadr City within the capital.
“These militias that take to violence will become targets,” Kimmitt said.
In further evidence of the dramatically altered environment in Iraq since last weekend, Bulgaria has asked the United States to send troops to reinforce Sofia’s 450-strong battalion in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala, where occupation soldiers are also facing a Shiite uprising.
The Reuters news service reported that Bulgarian chief of staff Nikola Kolev said his force’s military base had come under heavy machinegun fire on Tuesday night but that there were no casualties. A Bulgarian civilian truck driver was killed on Tuesday some 25 miles south of Nasiriyah when attackers fired on a convoy of six trucks belonging to a Bulgarian company involved in Iraq’s reconstruction.
Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Petkov called ambassadors of the United States, Britain, Spain and Poland to the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday asking for back-up for Bulgarian soldiers in Iraq.
“Bulgaria has demanded additional U.S. support for our contingent in Karbala,” Petkov told reporters after the meeting. “I firmly reassert our decision to continue our engagement in Iraq and fight the terror.”
The uprising in the south of Iraq by supporters of Sadr has led to clashes with U.S., British, Italian and other occupation troops. Sadr could put an end to the violence by turning himself in to Iraqi police, Kimmitt said.
Sadr is the subject of an arrest warrant in connection with the killing of a rival cleric in Najaf last April.
The heaviest fighting Wednesday appeared to be in Fallujah. A Marine Expeditionary Force continued to execute Operation Vigilant Resolve, not only in Fallujah itself but throughout Anbar Province, which includes Fallujah, and in several cities described by U.S. officials as “known to harbor anti-Iraqi forces.”
Regarding Tuesday’s deaths of 12 Marines in Ramadi, a statement from the military said that “establishing a persistent presence in areas where U.S. forces have not consistently operated over the last 12 months has been costly. Operations as they unfolded yesterday in Ramadi were shadowed by the loss of 12 Marines. Eleven Marines died while engaged with the anti-Iraqi forces for more than seven hours; one died from wounds suffered during the firefight.”
The statement attributed the increase in the number of attacks on coalition forces to the Marine strategy of “heightening their profile” and aggressively challenging insurgents “in place, where they’ve gained influence.”