Big Firefight In Iraqi Hotbed

U.S. Army soldiers patrol near Haifa Street in downtown Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, July 22, 2004. One Iraqi police officer and another Iraqi suffered gunshot wounds in an overnight clash in the area, which was also the scene of another gun battle earlier this month. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)
U.S. Marines killed 25 insurgents and captured 25 others during several hours of fierce fighting, the American military said Thursday.

The fighting Wednesday in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, wounded 14 U.S. servicemen, but none sustained life threatening injuries and 10 have returned to duty, according to a Marine statement.

The Marines say fighting began when a bomb was set off near a Marine convoy in an ambush attempt. Iraqi fighters followed through with small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The fighting escalated, with more insurgents joining the first group and the Marines calling in warplanes to back them up, CBS News Correspondent Elaine Cobbe reports.

In Baghdad, insurgents battled with U.S. soldiers on Haifa Street, according to an unidentified hospital official interviewed by Associated Press Television News. Two Iraqis were reported wounded.

Elsewhere, assailants attacked a police patrol and a government-run cultural center in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, separate attacks that wounded two people, security officials said Thursday.

In other developments:

  • Iraqi police and the Bulgarian government said a decapitated body has been found in Iraq. No details were available.
  • Echoing reports in the Untied States and Britain, an Australia review of prewar intelligence found the decision to invade Iraq was based on thin, equivocal and uncertain intelligence, but cleared the government of doctoring the spy data.
  • Just short of two-thirds of the new Iraqi police and security troops have completed some form of training, although many of them lack weapons, vehicles and other equipment necessary to do their job, Pentagon figures show.
  • Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said he wants troops from Arab and Islamic countries to protect the United Nations mission in Iraq, and asked Egypt to help. A day earlier, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the world body has not received a single firm commitment of troops, six weeks after the Security Council authorized a separate force to protect U.N. staff. An Egyptian official said Cairo would only send troops if other Arab states did so first.
  • A freed hostage arrived home in the Philippines to a hero's welcome, as the U.S. ambassador left for Washington in a sign of tension between the allies over Manila's capitulation to hostage-takers' demands that it withdraw its troops from Iraq.
  • Indian officials in Baghdad were working with Egypt and Kenya to free six of their nationals whose kidnapping was announced Wednesday, an Indian official said from New Delhi on condition of anonymity. Kenya ordered its nationals out of Iraq.

    "We are in touch with authorities in Baghdad and Kuwait and are making all efforts to ensure an early and safe release of the hostages," Indian External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh said in Islamabad, Pakistan. "The hostages are noncombatants, and I appeal to all those who have influence to assist in ensuring the safe return home of these innocent people."

    The group that captured the six said it would behead a captive every 72 hours beginning Saturday night if their countries do not announce their intentions to withdraw troops and citizens from Iraq and warned that every Kuwaiti company dealing with Americans "will be dealt with as an American."

    The threat to behead the hostages — and separate warnings against Bulgarian, Polish and Japanese troops — is the latest development in a violent campaign to scare off foreigners, who play a vital role in supporting the new U.S.-backed government and in the reconstruction of Iraq.

    More than 60 foreigners have been taken hostage in recent months in Iraq, where thousands of foreigners toil as contract workers for coalition forces, in crucial reconstruction jobs or as truck drivers hauling cargo for private companies.

    The threat came two days after the Philippines withdrew its 51-troop contingent from Iraq, giving in to the demands of militants holding a Filipino truck driver. The driver, Angelo dela Cruz, returned to the Philippines on Thursday, two days after his release.

    Iraqi and U.S. officials had warned of a potential surge in threats and hostage-taking when the Philippines withdrew its troops. Egypt, Kenya and India are not part of the 160,000-member U.S.-led coalition; however, interim Allawi appealed last week to India and Egypt to send in troops.

    Marines spokesman Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson said the situation in Ramadi was "relatively quiet" Thursday and that "Marines continue to operate from bases within the city, as they have since arriving early this year."

    In the fighting, the American ground forces clashed with the insurgents for hours, during which the Marines also safely detonated two homemade bombs, including one placed in a car.

    Ramadi is located in Anbar Province, a Sunni-dominated area west of the Iraqi capital that has been a hotbed of anti-coalition insurgency. Ramadi shopkeepers were seen shuttering their stores Thursday, apparently in fear of more clashes.

    "We were told by the opposition (insurgents) to close our shops and leave the area because there would be fighting in the market," said Mohammed Medhat, the owner of a grocery store in Ramadi's central market area. "I'm a father. I need to earn money to feed my children. We can't keep living with this fighting."

    The fighting in Baghdad occurred around 4 a.m. in Haifa Street, the scene of another gunbattle earlier this month, according to an unidentified hospital official interviewed by Associated Press Television.

    The official, speaking at a Baghdad hospital, said one police officer and another man suffered gun shot wounds.

    Interior Ministry official Sabah Khadum said Iraqi police and intelligence forces arrested 200 people, including several "non-Iraqi Arabs," during the Haifa Street operation and discovered a huge cache of weapons.

    American soldiers in armored vehicles and a U.S. sniper on a rooftop were seen in Haifa Street following the early morning clashes. It was not immediately clear what sparked the fighting.