By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 7, 2008 - Coalition forces are increasingly focused on rocket and mortar teams following attacks on two Baghdad sites yesterday that killed three U.S. servicemembers and wounded 26 others. Rockets rained on Baghdad's heavily fortified International Zone around 3:30 p.m. yesterday, killing two and wounding 17, military officials said. Several hours later, mortars struck a forward operating base in the eastern section of the Iraqi capital, killing one and injuring nine.
"We're definitely going after the mortar and rocket teams. They don't just hit us, they kill innocent civilians and governmental employees, and it's basically one of our focus areas right now," Army Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a Multinational Division Baghdad spokesman, said today. "Over the next several days, as long as they keep trying to do this, we're going to keep going after them."
In a separate attack around 5:30 a.m. today, coalition forces saw insurgents in a white van launching four 107 mm rockets at a forward operating base in the eastern Baghdad district of New Baghdad, according to a Multinational Force Iraq news release. It is unclear whether anyone was killed or injured in the attack. Coalition forces retaliated a half-hour later, firing two Hellfire missiles that destroyed the white van and killed its driver, the release said.
Military officials said those perpetrating the attacks are criminals formerly aligned with Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. They are in violation of a pledge by Sadr renewed last week to cease violence against coalition and Iraqi forces, officials said.
Violence in the Iraqi capital has been "contained to certain areas," Stover said, adding that coalition forces aim to engage rocket and mortar teams before they are able to launch attacks around Baghdad.
"If we can positively identify them and we can use a precision weapon to take those guys out, we will do it," he said. "We won't quit. Our main mission here is to protect the Iraqi people, and we take that job very seriously."
The ramped-up violence comes before Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker provide Congress a follow-up to the military and diplomatic progress update they delivered in September. The top U.S. military commander and diplomat in Iraq are slated to delivery their testimony tomorrow and the next day. They are expected to describe results of the 33,000-troop surge launched last year to tamp down violence in Iraq and help prepare Iraq's national security forces to maintain security.
The troop surge has been lauded as a successful U.S. strategic shift that helped quash sectarian clashes and other violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
One military official, speaking on background, suggested that increased rocket and mortar attacks in Baghdad likely are related to the upcoming hearings here.
"You'd be naïve to think that this uptick in violence has nothing to do with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker's testimony on the Hill," the official said.