June 24, 2004 – The Iraq Spring Fighting of 2004 was a series of operational offensives and various major engagements during the Iraq War. It was a turning point in the war: before, the conflict was simply US/Coalition versus insurgents, but the Spring Fighting marked the entrance of militias and religiously based (Shi’a and Sunni) militant Iraqi groups, such as the Mahdi Army into the arena of conflict. It is at this time during the war that kidnapping, and in some cases beheadings, emerged as another insurgent tactic. Foreign civilians bore the brunt of the kidnappings, although some U.S. military personnel were also targeted. After kidnapping the victim, the insurgents typically made some sort of demand of the government of the hostage’s nation and gave a time limit for the demand to be carried out, often 72 hours. Beheading was often threatened if the government fails to heed the wishes of the hostage takers. Several individuals, including an American civilian (Nicholas Berg) and a South Korean (Kim Sun-il), among others, were beheaded during this period. On May 4, following a breakdown in negotiations, coalition forces began a counter-offensive to eliminate the Mahdi Army in southern Iraq. The first wave began with simultaneous raids in Karbala and Diwaniyah on militia forces. It was followed by a second wave on May 5 in Karbala, and more attacks which seized the governor’s office in Najaf on May 6. Four U.S. soldiers and an estimated 86 militiamen were killed in the fighting. Several high-ranking militia commanders were also killed in a separate raid by US Army Special Operations units. On May 8, U.S. forces launched a follow-up offensive into Karbala, launching a two-pronged attack into the city. U.S tanks also launched an incursion into Sadr City. At the same time, perhaps as a diversionary tactic, hundreds of Mahdi Army insurgents swept through Basra, firing on British patrols and seizing parts of the city. Two militants were killed and several British troops were wounded. On May 24, after suffering heavy losses in weeks of fighting, Mahdi Army forces withdrew from the city of Karbala. This left the Najaf-Kufa region the only area still under firm Mahdi control, though it was also under sustained American assault. Several hundred Mahdi Army rebels in total were killed in clashes with American forces. Unfazed by the fighting, Muqtada al-Sadr regularly gave Friday sermons in Kufa throughout the uprising. On May 30, American forces withdrew from the interior of the city of Samarra, and encircled it. Insurgents took full control of the city. On the same day, insurgents also took control of Latifiya and Yusufiyah south of Baghdad, effectively cutting Highway One between Baghdad and Karbala, and the Americans responded by rerouting traffic onto Highway Eight to maintain contact with the south of the country. On June 6, 2004, Muqtada al-Sadr issued an announcement directing the Mahdi Army to cease operations in Najaf and Kufa, but the fighting in the south continued until June 24, 2004. Coincidentally, just as the Shi’a and Sunni offensives started together on the same day, they ended on the same day. On the day that the fighting ceased in the south, a massive coordinated attack by insurgents was underway in the Sunni territories. In five cities – Ramadi, Baghdad, Mahmudiya, Baquba and Mosul – attacks were underway. In Baghdad a suicide bomber killed four Iraqi soldiers, but the attacks in Mosul were the bloodiest. Four suicide bombers killed fifty-six civilians, eight Iraqi policemen and two American soldiers. The most intense fighting was in Baquba, where, with precise and strategic attack, the insurgents attacked and took control of the main police station and city hall, and burned down the home of the police chief. American and Iraqi troops withdrew from the city, but after a few hours American bomber planes hit insurgent positions in the city at city hall, the police station and at the football stadium. After the air strikes, the American forces entered the city without resistance. Twenty-one members of the Iraqi security forces, two American soldiers and thirteen civilians were killed during the street fighting in Baquba. The only gain by the insurgents on this day was in Ramadi, where insurgent forces managed to take control and laid siege to Marine bunker positions. The city was under insurgent control by the end of the day. Some additional fighting was also reported around Fallujah, where nine civilians were said to have been killed. During the insurgent offensive on June 24, 2004 one hundred twenty-nine Iraqis and four Americans were killed. The number of insurgent casualties is unknown. In total, the United States estimated that around 1,342 Sunni and Shi’a fighters were killed, and approximately 430 insurgents were captured. The USA, Iraq, and other allied forces suffered 383 killed. Approximately 2,500 American soldiers were wounded during this period. The results were indecisive. Most of Al-Anbar province (including Ramadi and Fallujah) as well as some Sunni territory north and south of Baghdad, including Samarra, were effectively left under insurgent control. The United States forces managed to maintain control of Baghdad and other major cities in the Shi’a south as well as some in the north. Another uprising of the Mahdi Army occurred a month and a half later, and a bloodier battle for the city of Najaf unfolded. Also in November the Second Battle of Fallujah occurred, Operation Phantom Fury, which left ninety-five percent of the city in ruins. Four days after the end of the Spring Fighting on June 28, 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred control to a new Iraqi government. With this, the occupation was officially over, but coalition forces remained in large numbers in the country. On the day that the transfer of authority occurred, three American Marines were killed in Baghdad and one British soldier was killed in Basra.