boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

Rebels smuggle supplies into Iraqi city

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Sunni insurgents are smuggling weapons and fighters into Fallujah in aid convoys and ambulances, making it difficult for U.S. troops to stem the flow of weapons, Marines said Monday.

 

On Monday alone, U.S. troops in Fallujah uncovered anti-aircraft guns buried in a load of humanitarian aid and saw an ambulance pull up to two shot insurgents and take away their weapons -- leaving the casualties lying there.

"One guy was found hidden in a sack of grain in the back of a truck," apparently intent on joining fighters in the city, Army Military Police Capt. Kurt Barclay, 38, from Ridgeway, Pa., said at a checkpoint on a desert road leading into Fallujah.

Humvees blocked the road as troops checked through a line of cars, buses and trucks loaded with sacks and boxes of food, medicine, blood plasma and blankets.

Using sniffer dogs, Marines and MPs poked through truck cargo holds and car trunks. But the understaffed troops waved some vehicles through after only a cursory look. They said they don't have enough personnel or the right equipment, such as large x-ray machines, for comprehensive checks of every vehicle.

"There was bus with a false bottom filled with assault rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers," Marine 1st Lt. David Denial said.

But the bus -- with the weapons undiscovered -- made it through the checkpoint. Troops inside the city happened to stop the vehicle and found the stash, Denial said.

The anti-aircraft gun stash hidden in a truckload of aid also slipped through the cordon but was discovered in the city later, he said.

Up to 100 vehicles have been ferrying aid into Fallujah every day since Friday, when U.S. forces halted major attacks on Sunni Muslim insurgents after five days of fierce fighting, Denial said. U.S. forces have set up checkpoints on all roads leading to the city, 35 miles west of Baghdad.

Iraqis, many outraged by the bloody Marine siege of the city, have been sending donations of food, fuel, medical supplies and other aid in convoys organized by relief organizations, religious groups and private individuals.

But rebels have been exploiting the relative calm to smuggle in the supplies they will need if fighting resumes, Marines say. Inside the city, insurgents have been using ambulances to transport weapons between neighborhoods, Marine Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said.

On Monday, Marines shot and killed two insurgents seen setting up a machine gun near their position, Byrne said. An ambulance wheeled up, and a man got out to collect the machine gun, leaving the men, he said. The ambulance man also was shot and killed.

"We have to be careful because ambulances are being used for legitimate purposes, but we are also treating them with suspicion," Byrne said.

Troops at the roadblocks barred many military-aged men from entering, fearing they were coming join the battle against Marines as the fight for Fallujah becomes an anti-American rallying cry.

Denial said his troops turned back a seven-vehicle convoy claiming to be from an Islamic aid group, Denial said.

"Their credentials were shoddy. There were 36 men of military age," he said. "The head guy said he was a doctor with a white coat. We caught him in a lie. He tried to pass off his driver's license as a medical ID."

The men were not detained and later left the area, he said.

Most people waiting at the roadblocks to get into the city were there to bring much-needed supplies to Fallujah's residents.

Jamah Abdullah, 42, an ambulance driver for the Red Crescent Society, said he had been into the city several times in the past few days delivering aid.

"There are many people dead. Many wounded. Houses destroyed, damaged. I am doing this to help," he said.

More than 600 Iraqis, mostly civilians, have been killed in the past week of fighting in Fallujah and scores more wounded, according to Rafie al-Issawi, the head of the city's hospital. At least five Marines have been killed, the military says.

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
   
Globe Archives
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months