Battle of Karbala (Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003)

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The Battle of Karbala (March 31 to April 6, 2003), took place during the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq as US forces fought to clear the city of Iraqi Army and Fedayeen forces. US divisions involved in the battle included the US Army 3rd Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Division, and the 101st Airborne Division. Iraqi forces consisted of members of the Republican Guard, Saddam Fedayeen and Syrian mercenaries.

The city had been bypassed during the armored advance to Baghdad, leaving three US divisions and supporting units to clear it in two days of street battles against fierce resistance. The task fell principally to the 101st Airborne Division, supported by the 1st Armoured Division.

Urban fighting

On 29 March, a suicide bomber (identified as Ali Jaafar al-Noamani, a noncommissioned officer), killed 4 US soldiers (Sergeant Eugene Williams, Corporal Michael Curtin and Privates First Class Michael Weldon and Diego Rincon), on Highway 9 on the outskirts of Karbala.

On April 2, a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was shot down by small arms fire near Karbala, killing 7 soldiers.[1] Four other soldiers on board were wounded. That same day, a US Navy FA-18 was also shot down west of Karbala.[2] Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed Al-Sahaf claimed the naval fighter was shot down by the Saddam Fedayeen, Iraq's paramilitary force. These losses appeared to confirm that a significant Iraqi force was defending the city.

The commander of the 101st Airborne Division decided to insert three battalions from the 502nd Infantry Regiment using 5 Chinook helicopters at three landing zones (LZs) on the outskirts of Karbala, designated LZ Sparrow, LZ Finch and LZ Robin. M-1 Abram tanks and M-2 Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) of the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armored Regiment were tasked with supporting the helicopter-borne insertions.

On the morning of April 5, 23 Black Hawk helicopter gunships escorted the Chinooks transporting the 502nd Regiment to their LZs. The 3rd Battalion landed at Sparrow under heavy fire.[3] The 2nd Battalion landed at Robin and discovered a suspected terrorist training camp. The 1st Battalion landed at Finch and captured a large cache of weapons, including 2 ZPUs, 5 S60s, 14 mortar systems and 36 RPG launchers.[4] While the 502nd Regiment moved forward, it was covered by helicopter gunships and self-propelled artillery. The 2nd Battalion, 70th Armored Regiment with 28 M1 Abrams tanks and 16 M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles also moved forward to engage the Iraqi regulars and irregulars in the house-to-house fighting, losing 1 man (Specialist (SPC) Larry Brown) killed to small-arms fire and a Bradley to a Rocket-Propelled-Grenade (RPG).


The following morning, April 6, the Americans continued clearing operations until 5 PM local time, when all objectives were declared secure. Symbolic of the victory, members of the 70th Armored Regiment tore down a large statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.

Iraqi losses were reportedly up to 260 killed, with the Americans suffering 21 killed.


  1. Black Hawk, Hornet down: seven killed
  2. Report: FA-18 Shot Down Near Karbala
  3. The Encyclopedia of Middle East Wars: The United States in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq Conflicts (5 volumes), Spencer C. Tucker, p. 672, ABC-CLIO, 2010-
  4. Strike on Karbala by James Dietz