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U.S.: Marines seize hospital hiding Iraqi soldiers

U.S. troops found gas masks in abandoned Iraqi positions on the road to Nasiriya.
U.S. troops found gas masks in abandoned Iraqi positions on the road to Nasiriya.

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NASIRIYA, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. Marines on Tuesday seized a hospital in Nasiriya and captured nearly 170 Iraqi soldiers who had been staging military operations from the facility, U.S. authorities said.

No civilians were in the facility, which U.S. Central Command said was "clearly marked as a hospital by a flag with a Red Crescent." Marines confiscated more than 200 weapons, more than 3,000 chemical suits with masks and Iraqi military uniforms in the hospital, and found a T-55 tank in the hospital compound, Central Command said.

Marines had been fired at from the hospital a day earlier.

No civilians were injured in the operation and none were found in the hospital when Marines from Task Force Tarawa of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines went in, according to Central Command. Before they moved in, Marines used loudspeakers to instruct any medical personnel or patients inside to evacuate, authorities said.

Marines said the Iraqi soldiers were not armed when they were captured, but were wearing what Central Command described as "a mixture of mostly civilian clothing with parts of military uniforms."

Col. Ron Johnson, operations officer for Task Force Tarawa, said Marines believed Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians were being bused into Nasiriya to stage attacks on U.S. forces there. The Iraqis were taking weapons and ammunition from the hospital before entering the city, he said.

Coalition leaders have accused Iraqi forces of luring coalition troops into ambushes and attacks by dressing as civilians, as well as by feigning surrender.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday, "Some of the biggest losses we have taken are due to Iraqis' committing serious violations of the law of armed conflict and the Geneva Conventions by dressing as civilians and luring us into surrender situations and opening fire on our troops."

The Pentagon has lashed out at such tactics, calling them "deadly deception" that marks "serious violations of the laws of war." Officials said Tuesday that conducting military operations under a Red Crescent flag is also a violation.

There was no immediate report of any casualties on either side as the Marines seized the hospital and took prisoners.

Nasiriya was the site of a second day of intense fighting Tuesday as U.S. Marines moved through.

CNN Correspondent Art Harris, embedded with the Marines, said that as his unit rolled into Nasiriya just before dawn Tuesday the main road was "wall-to-wall" with Marines. They were lying flat on the ground, M-16 rifles at the ready, facing in both directions, he said.

At every intersection were tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, Harris said.

Ten Marines were killed in action in Nasiriya early in the battle and at least five others were taken prisoner by Iraqis on Sunday, military authorities said.

The southern Iraqi city is a key center in the war because it is the site of bridges across the Euphrates River.

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