BAGHDAD, Iraq – Foreign- and Iraqi-led insurgent groups asserted Monday that guerrilla leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization was responsible for a major assault on Abu Ghraib prison Saturday that U.S. officers called one of the most sophisticated attacks of the insurgency.
Rocket barrages forced Marine guards to abandon a prison watchtower at the height of the precision-timed offensive, which employed mortars, rockets, ground assaults and a car bomb, a U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, said Monday.
U.S. troops, backed by Apache helicopters and artillery, fired small arms and grenades to help the guards drive attackers back from prison walls, Rudisill said. The battle wounded 44 American troops and 13 of the more than 3,000 detainees held at the prison.
“It was one of the more concerted attacks that we’ve seen,” said Lt. Col. Steven A. Boylan, a U.S. military spokesman.
In an interview, Iraqi insurgent leaders said the assault was carried out by al-Zarqawi’s group, al Qaeda in Iraq. The claim was also made in the name of the group on a radical Islamic Web site. The group’s numerous attacks had until now largely involved suicide bombings, car bombings and kidnappings rather than direct confrontations with U.S. forces.
U.S. authorities said they had not yet determined the veracity of the claims. Boylan said it was “too early to say whether this is a new trend or a new strategy” for the insurgency, which in March inflicted fewer casualties on U.S. forces than in any month since February 2004.
Insurgent commanders said Monday that the prison assault represented a shift in tactics and that more attacks on U.S. installations would follow.
“These operations will be different from the old ones, the car bombs, the IEDs,” said Abu Jalal, a top commander in Mohammed’s Army, using the common abbreviation for improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs. Mohammed’s Army is one of dozens of home-grown armed groups believed to be fighting the U.S. occupation in Iraq.
“We are going to use the same method that they used when they attacked Iraq,” said Abu Jalal, who uses a nom de guerre and described himself as a former general in the Iraqi military during Saddam Hussein’s rule.