Thirteen fighters died in overnight clashes with U.S.-led forces in Fallujah, the U.S. military said Saturday, while Iraq's interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, sought additional pledges from neighboring Arab countries for help in stopping violence that the government has blamed on foreign infiltrators.
The U.S. military said it battled insurgents in Fallujah after a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol was attacked. A hospital official in Fallujah, Salim Ibrahim, told the Associated Press that those killed in the clashes were civilians hit by U.S. airstrikes. No U.S. or Iraqi forces were killed, the military said.
Fallujah remains a thorny battleground for U.S. forces, which agreed to leave the city west of Baghdad in an effort to stop clashes in April. Insurgents now control the city.
Meanwhile, George Sada, a spokesman for Allawi, said the United Arab Emirates had agreed to provide military vehicles, de-mining equipment and training for Iraqi police. Allawi has recently met with the leaders of Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to request such support.
"We appreciate those brotherly aids and support represented by our brothers in U.A.E. to support Iraq's infrastructure and facilities to conduct the best circumstances to ensure safety and stability within the region," Sada said in a statement.
Iraqi insurgents said they had kidnapped two Turks and threatened to behead them within 48 hours, the latest in the country's unrelenting wave of abductions, the Associated Press reported. A group that identified itself as Jamaat al-Tawhid and Jihad demanded that the Turks' employers leave Iraq. A videotape aired on the al-Jazeera satellite television network showed three masked, black-garbed gunmen standing behind two seated men holding forms of identification, including what appeared to be Turkish passports.
Also Saturday, an Iraqi tribal leader who has been serving as a mediator in the kidnapping of seven foreign truck drivers said he had met with a representative of their Kuwaiti company. "We hope to reach a positive outcome for the sake of these hostages and rescue them," Hisham Dulaymi told Reuters. The seven hostages are from India, Kenya and Egypt. The kidnappers, who call themselves the Hoisters of the Black Flags, had threatened to start killing the hostages Friday unless the Kuwaiti company withdrew all its foreign workers from Iraq.
Groups reportedly linked to Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian national who is among the most-wanted insurgents in Iraq, have taken responsibility for many of the kidnappings. More than 70 foreigners have been abducted. U.S. military authorities have made several airstrikes in Fallujah in recent weeks aimed at Zarqawi, who they believe is based there.
In Baghdad on Saturday, shop owners in the Jadhriya neighborhood expressed concern that the same people behind the continued violence in Fallujah were responsible for car bombings and attacks in the capital.
Sitting in his cosmetics store, which was dark and hot because it does not have a generator and the city was under a rationed electrical blackout, Khaled, who declined to give his last name, quipped: "It's the great country. It's the great Iraq."
Khaled said he was not sure when the violence would end in Fallujah. "There is no solution from our government or the American side," he said. "My country is open and anyone can come inside."
Like several other Iraqis interviewed, Khaled said he did not believe that Zarqawi exists and suggested that the Americans had invented him so they would have someone to blame for the violence.
Ali Abdul Wahab, 28, who sells cigarettes, said the solution to ending the clashes in Fallujah is for the Iraqis and the American forces to team up. But Wahab blamed the Americans for causing the problems.
"They give them freedom, but they don't understand what the freedom is," he said. "If they pull out all the coalition forces, will the clashes stop? I don't think so. Iraqis should do something."
Special correspondent Luma Faruq contributed to this report.