ANCHORAGE - A Fort Wainwright soldier killed over the weekend had been standing guard during a raid of a terror cell in Iraq - not caught in an ambush as Alaska military officials initially reported, an Army commander in Mosul said Tuesday.
Pvt. Christopher Alcozer, 21, was fatally shot by an insurgent after 150 U.S. forces and 35 Iraqi soldiers launched an assault on a house occupied by suspected terrorists, said Lt. Col. Chuck Webster, a task force commander who participated in the raid Saturday.
The shooter was in the house and targeted Alcozer through a slit in a wall as the soldier stood just outside the entrance during a fierce firefight that broke out, Webster said.
"It's very sad we lost a great soldier, but he died performing his duty, serving his country and protecting his buddies," he said of Alcozer, the fourth member of the Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team to die in Iraq, all in recent weeks.
Alaska military officials initially reported Alcozer's death happened during an ambush, based on the first reports to come from Iraq, Maj. Kirk Gohlke, an Army spokesman in Alaska, said Tuesday.
Also killed were four Iraqi police and eight insurgents, including three who blew themselves up with explosives, according to officials. Webster said forces later found the bodies of seven insurgents, including two women.
A neighbor told an Associated Press reporter in Iraq that four men, a woman and three children had quietly lived in the house since last year. Webster could not be reached for comment later Tuesday about the residents of the house or the discrepancy in the number of suspected insurgents. Gohlke said all reports they have received from Iraq indicate there were only seven adults in the house.
At least 11 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were wounded in the raid, which was launched after a tip that al-Qaida operatives - possibly including terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - were in the house. The wounded soldiers are expected to fully recover.
Webster said authorities were still trying to determine if al-Zarqawi was among the dead, but like other military officials, was skeptical about speculation that the leader perished, calling al-Zarqawi "a very elusive target, very elusive enemy."
Iraqi officials have said DNA tests from some of the corpses were being performed to determine if al-Zarqawi was killed.
After the raid, forces also found bomb-making materials, instructions for making bombs, weapons, explosives and literature noting that "these people would not taken alive," Webster said.
"They wanted to be martyrs."
Webster said the explosions destroyed the house and the adjacent building in the middle class neighborhood, where homes are tightly packed along streets as narrow as alleys. No one next door was hurt, Webster said.
Alcozer, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park, was among the soldiers sealing off the home when the gun battle broke out with the insurgents, Webster said.
Alcozer was killed as he guarded troops rescuing wounded soldiers. Weeks earlier, he had proposed to his high school sweetheart in Illinois while on leave from a tour in Iraq that began in August.
"He was a full-fledged vital member of my unit," Webster said. "He joined the Army to serve his country and he did it very well."