NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov. 9 -- U.S. forces pushed into the heart of Fallujah on Tuesday, encountering roadside bombs, rockets and gunfire on the second day of a battle to wrest control of the city from insurgents.
Army and Marine units that entered Fallujah from the northeast and northwest on Monday night had fought their way to the city center and beyond by Tuesday night, U.S. commanders said.
Marines from Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 8th Regiment take up positions along a narrow street in Fallujah.
(Luis Sinco -- Los Angeles Times)
A view of the city of Fallujah from the IKONOS satellite.
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Map: U.S. military commanders said their advance from the north was intended to surprise the insurgents.
Photo Gallery: U.S. forces began a long-anticipated urban offensive on the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah.
Soldiers with the Army's 1st Infantry Division made their way to the southeastern part of the city, a neighborhood of factories and warehouses where they expected to find guerrillas waiting for them. Instead, the district was relatively quiet, though the units reported being fired on by women and children armed with assault rifles.
"There were multiple groups running around shooting at us," said Air Force Senior Airman Michael Smyre, 26, of Hickory, N.C., an airstrike spotter attached to the 1st Infantry who was wounded when a rocket hit his armored vehicle. "You could see a lot of rubble, trash everywhere. It was real nasty-looking."
Marines fighting to the west of the Army units advanced to the main east-west highway that divides Fallujah and reported persistent resistance from insurgents firing from mosques.
The U.S. military said 10 troops and two members of Iraq's security forces were killed in the first two days of the battle, the largest military operation since the U.S.-led invasion last year. U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope the assault will break the grip of insurgents who have held Fallujah for nearly seven months.
Some Iraqi political and religious groups condemned the push into Fallujah, a stronghold of the Sunni Muslim minority. A leading Sunni organization, the Iraqi Islamic Party, quit the country's interim government, and Sunni clerics on Tuesday made good on threats to call for a boycott of January elections. Harith Dhari, head of the pro-insurgency Association of Muslim Scholars, said balloting would occur "over the corpses of those killed in Fallujah."
Insurgents elsewhere in Iraq, meanwhile, continued a strategy of mounting attacks. In Baqubah, a restive city northeast of Baghdad, armed bands attacked two police stations. Police officials and the U.S. military said the attacks were beaten back. A car bomb at an Iraqi National Guard camp outside the northern city of Kirkuk killed three people and wounded two. And two U.S. service members were killed in a mortar attack on a base in Mosul, also in the north.
In Baghdad, where insurgents on Monday night detonated a car bomb outside a hospital treating victims of two car bombs outside churches, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi imposed a curfew from 10:30 p.m. to 4 a.m. U.S. fighter jets made low passes over the capital, a show of strength rarely seen since the 2003 invasion.
At a news conference in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the commander of foreign military operations in Iraq, said the assault on Fallujah had so far "achieved our objectives on or ahead of schedule." He added, "I think we're looking at several more days of tough urban fighting."
The general said the battle plan as a whole was on course. "We felt like the enemy would form an outer crust in defense of Fallujah. We broke through that pretty quickly and easily," Metz said. "We also then anticipated him breaking up into small three- to six-person detachments or squads, which we've seen throughout the day, today especially."
Witnesses said that by Tuesday night, U.S. and Iraqi forces controlled the Jolan, Mualimeen and Askali neighborhoods in the north of Fallujah. They also held the Rawdha Muhammediya mosque, headquarters of the insurgent fighters and the mujaheddin shura, the city's self-appointed government.
The assault pushed insurgents into Shuhada and other neighborhoods in the southernmost part of the city, where they are fighting and hiding behind buildings and houses, witnesses said.
Metz said that because U.S. forces formed a "very tight" cordon around the city Sunday night, the enemy "doesn't have an escape route" and eventually would be cornered.