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War Q&A

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2003

1) How many Americans have been captured by the Iraqis?

At least seven, probably more. Iraqi television showed pictures Monday of two men said to have been the U.S. crew of an Apache helicopter shot down in heavy fighting in central Iraq. Gen. Tommy Franks has confirmed two airmen are missing.

The airmen would be the second set of POWs displayed by the Iraqis in as many days. Iraqi television earlier showed footage of five U.S. soldiers captured near An Nasiriyah, a crossing point over the Euphrates River. Other soldiers are missing, presumed captured by Iraqi forces.

2) Did an Iraqi farmer shoot down a U.S. Apache helicopter?

Iraq television said that "a small number of peasants shot down two Apaches" over Karbala, south of Baghdad. It showed footage of two Americans and one downed helicopter.

Franks denied that the chopper had been shot down by farmers and denied that a second helicopter had been lost.

3) Are the Iraqis mistreating American prisoners of war when they display them on television?

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has criticized the Iraqi telecasts, arguing that the Geneva Convention prohibits photographing or humiliating prisoners of war.

Some legal scholars disagree. The Geneva Convention says prisoners must be protected against "insults and public curiosity." It also prohibits "outrages upon personal dignity; in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."

Unlike Iraqi television, American television has not shown interviews with Iraqi prisoners -- though it is common to see footage of Iraqi prisoners.

4) What is the fedayeen?

The fedayeen is a 20,000-strong militia commanded by Saddam Hussein's son Qusay. It serves two purposes in the Iraq war: fighting coalition soldiers and preventing regular Iraqi soldiers from surrendering.

Fedayeen, Arabic for "fighters willing to die for the cause," is used to describe fighters in several countries. Saddam's Fedayeen is typically used to attack and torture opponents of the regime and to ensure the loyalty of regular troops. But in recent days, it has put up some of the stiffest resistance against the coalition ground troops.

5) Have any weapons of mass destruction been found yet?

No. But the search goes on. American forces still are evaluating a plant captured by U.S. troops. They also are pursuing leads from captured Iraqis and documents.

6) What will happen to the American soldier suspected in the grenade attack?

Sgt. Asan Akbar could face a range of charges, including murder because the attack resulted in a death. A former Army prosecutor said the soldier could be charged with treason, but the murder charge would be easier to prove.

The attack also could bring charges of attempted manslaughter, maiming, housebreaking, misbehavior before the enemy and mutiny.

The military has not executed a soldier for a war-related offense since Pvt. Eddie Slovik, a World War II deserter who was brought before a firing squad in January 1945.

7) How many coalition soldiers have been killed by 'friendly fire?'

Two Britons were killed when their jet was struck by U.S. Patriot missiles. Those are the only confirmed friendly-fire deaths, though 20 other coalition soldiers have been killed in accidents -- including a helicopter crash, a collision between two helicopters and a vehicle accident.

8) What is the military definition of 'casualty?'

It doesn't necessarily mean death. The Department of Defense defines a casualty as someone who is lost to the organization because they are dead, missing, injured or ill.

9) Have there been more deaths to this point than there were in the first Gulf War at a similar point?

There have been at least 12 Americans and one Briton killed in combat in the first five days of the war. That does not include deaths caused by "friendly fire" or accidents.

The first Gulf War was different; it started with a bombing campaign that lasted more than five weeks. Once the ground war started on the 39th day, it lasted a little more than four days. All told, there were 148 Americans killed in combat and 145 noncombat -- or accidental -deaths.

10) Do coalition forces have control of the southern oil fields?

Not yet. Iraqi resistance has sprung up in the southern Rumailah oil fields. The fighting has driven out civilian firefighters trying to put out the oil well blazes.

11) Does that mean the fires won't be put out?

Coalition forces remain optimistic, especially since the number of burning oil wells is small compared with the first Gulf War.

Officials say only seven fires were burning in a field with 500 well heads. Putting out the fires appears to be a straightforward job, easier than extinguishing the 700 well fires set by Iraqi forces fleeing Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. But first the area needs to be made safe so the firefighters can do their jobs.

12) How can we write to the troops?

Delivery of mail or packages to unidentified soldiers is prohibited because of security concerns. But you can express your support for the troops via e-mail. Go to the following Web site: At that site, you can send an e-mail greeting or sign a virtual thank you card.

-- Information from the Associated Press, New York Times and USA Today were used by staff writer Stephen Hegarty in compiling this report. Researcher Kitty Bennett and foreign news assistant Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

-- If you have any questions about the war in Iraq, please send them to

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