Reuters – 2004-10-12 23:22:10
BAGHDAD (October 11, 2004) — US marines engaged in heavy clashes with scores of insurgents near a mosque in western Iraq on Monday, leading to US air strikes which damaged the shrine and left it ablaze, the US military said.
A US military spokesman said marines came under fire from around 100 insurgents near the town of Hit, about 107 miles west of Baghdad, and engaged in an hour-long firefight.
“Some of the anti-Iraqi forces took up fighting positions in a mosque,” the spokesman in Baghdad said.
“Air strikes were called in on the mosque position. The mosque is partially damaged and is currently on fire,” he said.
It was not immediately clear if it was a Sunni or Shi’ite Muslim mosque, but the vast majority of people in Anbar province, which includes the town of Hit, are Sunni Muslims.
The area has been a bastion of rebel activity over the past 18 months, particularly around the towns of Falluja and Ramadi, which lie just east of Hit.
Hit is on the main road that follows the Euphrates river toward Syria, a route that US forces suspect is used by foreign fighters to enter Iraq and bring supplies to guerrillas.
US forces have engaged in fighting near mosques previously in the Iraq conflict, most notably around the Imam Ali shrine in the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf earlier this year, but relatively little damage has yet been done to shrines. Insurgents often accuse US forces of damaging mosques, while the US military says guerrillas use the holy sites as shields from which to attack them.
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