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Bodies of 15 dead Iraqis found after ambush tell tales

IN CENTRAL IRAQ—Dead men do tell tales, and the bodies of 15 Iraqis found after an ambush on a supply convoy told a story by themselves.

They were killed Thursday during a firefight along a blacktop highway in which a U.S. Marine also was killed.

The Iraqis had lain silent while the fighting portion of the convoy passed, including tanks and assault vehicles. But when the convoy's softer, supply end was exposed, they opened fire. The assault vehicles quickly rounded on them with 25 mm rounds and rifle fire.

When it was over, the Iraqis turned out to be a cadre of middle-aged soldiers, some wearing the red bandannas associated with the Republican Guard. Mysteriously, one of them had been killed before the confrontation, apparently executed by the Iraqis themselves.

The attack came from sniper nests dug into a sand hill parallel to the highway. Each hole held the remains of the attackers' last meal, yellow Humanitarian Aid food bags and a small black teapot.

Capt. Sean Riddell of the 7th Engineering Support Battalion said the Marines were surprised by the Iraqis' appearance.

Compared with the youthful Marines around them, these were older soldiers, many with gray hair, receding hairlines and the thick stodginess of middle age. They looked like experienced soldiers, though.

Several wore the red bandannas associated with the Republican Guard, suggesting that perhaps the elite Iraqi fighting force was involved in guerrilla tactics as well as the massed warfare it is known for.

The soldiers' gear was similar to that of U.S. fighting forces: rubber gas masks, green canvas bags and camouflage outfits.

The Marines were baffled by the executed man, his body bound hand and foot and shot in the back of the head. Riddell said they could not know what happened, but one explanation was that the man might have been on the verge of surrendering.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.