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FROM: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s879894.htm

Last Update: Sunday, June 15, 2003. 5:28am (AEST)

US army raid kills 82 fighters near Iraq-Syria border

Eighty-two fighters, including one foreigner, were killed earlier this week in a massive US army raid on a desert training camp near the Syrian border, witnesses have said.

The fighting erupted on Thursday at dawn at the camp, which included an arms dump, and lasted 13 hours, residents from the nearby village of Rawa, 350 kilometres north-west of Baghdad, said.

They said the site, used as a training ground by die-hard Saddam loyalists, was bombed and that a gun battle shortly followed between US troops and the fighters.

"In total 82 people died in the camp," including at least one non-Iraqi, said Sheikh Gharbi Abdul Aziz, imam of Rawa's main mosque, just a few kilometres from Sahl.

He said he had taken part in the burial of the 82 bodies "some were in pieces or totally burnt," he said.

Fifty bodies were found all in a line, he said.

Another seven had been handcuffed and shot in the forehead, chest or in the back of the head.

The imam said villagers had carried 60 bodies from the camp and seven more from the nearby site where a US helicopter came down the same day.

They were all buried at Rawa cemetery.

At the camp, an AFP correspondent saw 15 more graves marked by wooden sticks.

Bottles had been stuck in the sand over the graves bearing the names of those who have been identified.

Osama Mahfudh Salem was said to be from Yemen, Abd as-Sattar Mohammad from Fallujah, a conservative Sunni Muslim town west of the Iraqi capital, which has seen sustained anti-US violence.

Bloodstained mattresses and pieces of discarded weaponry stood as a testament to the remorselessness of the pre-dawn fight.

"When the bombing stopped Thursday and when the Americans left, residents came and picked up loads of flesh and gore," said Abd al-Hadi Mahmud, a local garage owner.

"Some bodies were completely torn to pieces: feet, legs, skulls."

"When they came to the village, they never did us any harm. They were polite," he added.

"What I saw was unspeakable. I can't get over the sight of all these young people dead. Some were handcuffed," said Abd al-Wujud, a driver who helped carry the corpses outside the camp.

Residents also said the US army had fired at least six cluster bombs.

US Central Command said a US Apache helicopter was apparently shot down by hostile fire in western Iraq on Thursday but that its two crew members were not injured.

"Two additional Apache helicopters assisted in engaging irregular forces in the vicinity of the downed aircraft," a Centcom statement said.

FROM: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s879894.htm

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