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Troops Secure Much of Fallujah

Violence Breaks Out Elsewhere in Iraq as Insurgents Seek New Fronts

By Jackie Spinner and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 11, 2004; Page A01

FALLUJAH, Iraq, Nov. 10 -- U.S. and Iraqi forces established control over more than 70 percent of Fallujah on Wednesday, U.S. commanders said, and troops described encountering only small pockets of resistance as they pushed through a city that they likened to a ghost town.

"It's a lot lighter than we expected," said Staff Sgt. Jimmy Amyett, 24, of the 1st Infantry Division's Fox Troop, 4th Cavalry. When his unit first moved into Fallujah, he said, "we thought the city would explode on us."


Marines carry an injured colleague after a mortar hit their position near Fallujah. Eleven U.S. troops have been killed in the offensive. (Eliana Aponte -- Reuters)

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Elsewhere in Iraq, fierce fighting broke out in several cities, as insurgents strove to open fronts away from Fallujah. In Baghdad, gunmen kidnapped relatives of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi from their home on Tuesday, a spokesman for Allawi said Wednesday. An Islamic militant group said it would execute Allawi's relatives unless U.S. and Iraqi forces withdrew from Fallujah.

An Iraqi general, meanwhile, said troops discovered abandoned houses in the northern part of Fallujah where kidnappers had "slaughtered" foreign hostages. "We found the insurgents' black clothes," said Brig. Gen. Abdul-Qadir Muhammed Jasim, the Iraqi army's chief of operations for the region. "We've found hundreds of CDs, documents with their names."

As the joint push to drive insurgents out of Fallujah moved through its third day, U.S. military officials announced that 11 American troops and two Iraqi soldiers had been killed since the start of the operation, the largest in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. U.S. and Iraqi officials say Fallujah has been a base for the insurgency that has gripped the country for months and threatens to disrupt national elections scheduled for the end of January.

Insurgents claimed to have captured 20 Iraqi soldiers in Fallujah. A videotape aired on al-Jazeera television and obtained by the Reuters news agency showed a group of men wearing Iraqi National Guard uniforms with their backs to the camera. According to news service reports, a masked militant shown on the tape read a statement promising not to harm the prisoners but warning that Iraqi soldiers captured in the future would be killed.

The kidnappings could not be independently verified.

American and Iraqi troops had cleared most of Fallujah's northern neighborhoods Wednesday and were starting to move into the southern part of the city, where commanders said they still might find the bands of Iraqi and foreign insurgents that they had expected to encounter earlier.

As dusk settled on the city, tracer bullets zipped through the sky, and the sound of gunfire crackled through neighborhoods where Marine and Army units were engaging bands of insurgents. Loud explosions were followed by giant plumes of orange fire. After one particularly large blast that sent a fireball skyward, soldiers eating lasagna at an Army staging area shouted, "Happy birthday, Marines!"

Lt. Gen. John Sattler, the Marine commander in Fallujah, said the insurgents were fighting in small, uncoordinated groups.

"We are comfortable that they are not able to communicate, to work," Sattler said at a news conference. "They are now in small pockets, blind, moving throughout the city. We will continue to hunt them down and destroy them."

The industrial district in the southwest corner of the city, a target of intense airstrikes in recent weeks, was virtually empty, and soldiers who patrolled the area on foot Wednesday said the only signs of life they found were stray dogs running through the streets.

"Everything is rubble," said Sgt. Cory Johnson, 22, of Sardis, Ohio. "You turn your ankle every five feet. The city is pretty much empty."

Johnson said insurgents rigged the city before they left. "Roadblocks, concertina wire, booby traps -- anything they could possibly think of to hinder our movement, they did," he said.

Before launching the offense Monday night, U.S. and Iraqi forces encircled Fallujah in a bid to cut off insurgents trying to escape. "When they attempted to flee from one zone to another, they were killed or captured as they moved back and forth," Sattler said. "So as we swept through, we feel very comfortable none of them moved back toward the north or escaped out."

Intelligence officers have said they believe a large number of foreigners were among the estimated 2,000 to 3,000 insurgents in the city and that many were connected to the Jordanian guerrilla leader Abu Musab Zarqawi. Zarqawi and his loyalists have asserted responsibility for numerous car bombings, assassinations and kidnappings of foreigners in recent months.

Asked Wednesday if security forces had found any sign of Zarqawi in Fallujah, Jasim, the Iraqi commander, said Iraqi forces didn't come to Fallujah to chase Zarqawi. "We came here to get rid of a crisis," he said.

Jasim also took issue with the U.S. military's estimate that control had been established over 70 percent of the city. "This percentage is not accurate," he said. "It is exaggerated. Fighting in cities cannot be counted like this.

"We fully control the northern half of Fallujah now, and it has been cleared," Jasim said. "But if you ask is it fully cleared, I say no, we still have some resistance pockets. At first, the forces attack and clear the resisting groups, and then other forces go to search and, after that, clear the place. After we do this, we can say the area is fully cleared. We still have activities in the southern half of the city engaging direct and indirect fire. We are firing back."

Throughout the day, U.S. warplanes and helicopters continued to fire on areas where insurgents were believed to be hiding. Ground observers and air surveillance tracked bands of fighters as they clustered in safe houses and mosques and carried weapons to each other.

On Wednesday night, a warplane dropped a bomb on a house where insurgents reportedly had been spotted gathering weapons. After the blast, men ran from the rubble toward a smaller house across the street. A few minutes later, the house was hit by a missile and destroyed.


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