As U.S. and Iraqi troops patrolled the battered streets of Samarra, the central Iraqi city reclaimed from insurgents in two days of lopsided battle, residents emerged Sunday reporting thirst, hunger and casualties among the civilian population, according to news service accounts from the city.
Of the 70 dead brought to Samarra General Hospital since fighting erupted, 23 were children and 18 were women, said hospital official Abdul-Nasser Hamed Yassin, the Associated Press reported. Some residents left Samarra Sunday by floating down the Tigris River, waving white flags from boats, Reuters said.
Iraq's interim government continued to focus largely on the military success, saying that the offensive that returned Samarra to government control could be repeated in other cities where insurgents have operated with virtual impunity.
About 3,000 U.S. troops fought their way into the city, opening the way for 2,000 freshly trained Iraqi soldiers, who secured two sensitive religious sites.
"There is one goal, which is that Iraqi forces should control all the Iraqi cities," the interim president, Ghazi Yawar, said on the satellite news channel al-Arabiya. "These are Iraqi forces, Iraqi National Guardsmen. They don't have political ambitions. They want to maintain security in the Iraqi cities."
Yawar, a Sunni sheik from Mosul whose presidential duties are largely ceremonial, differed with some other government officials who played down the dominant role of the U.S. military and the toll on civilians.
"The airstrikes on the Iraqi cities is not acceptable at all," he said, referring to continuing U.S. air assaults on other urban areas. "I personally consider it collective punishment."
The targets of the airstrikes include Sadr City, the slum where Shiite militias are holding out in eastern Baghdad, and the Sunni city of Fallujah, where Marines called in an airstrike at about 1 a.m. Sunday that hit a building on the southwestern edge. A statement issued by the military command said the attack was prompted by 10 to 15 "anti-Iraqi forces" seen moving weapons at the building.
Forty-five minutes after the strike, munitions were still exploding inside the building, the military and local residents agreed. "A large number of enemy fighters are presumed killed," the military said. Fallujah residents said two men were killed.
Another "precision strike" followed shortly after midnight Monday, this time on a building on the outskirts of Fallujah where 24 insurgents were said to be moving weapons, the military announced. There was no immediate report of casualties.
The insurgents attacked on Sunday as well, though on a different scale. In a field near Habbaniya, a town about 15 miles west of Fallujah, a farmer watched as a white pickup truck slowed to a stop and several armed men climbed out. The men lifted a mortar tube out of the back and carried it into some bushes, along with an armload of shells.
"They had maps in their hand," said Khalid Salah, the farmer.
He said the booms a few moments later indicated that the rounds had been launched toward the local air base, which now houses a U.S. military unit. The men set fire to several tires they had brought along, then hurried away. The fires were intended "to make it difficult for the U.S. aircraft and helicopters to hit" the men, Salah explained.
Fallujah, a city of 200,000 people about 35 miles west of Baghdad, remains in the control of a volatile mix of local insurgents and foreign Arabs who traveled to Iraq to fight the U.S. military. Many are thought to have entered Iraq from Syria, and last week the Marines captured two Syrians and a Palestinian. The three were taken, along with several suspected Iraqi insurgents, during a raid on a safe house near Qaim, on the Syrian border. The raid took place Wednesday but was disclosed on Sunday.
Soldiers, commanders and ordinary Iraqis say that many insurgents stage attacks for money. So U.S. Army troops took it as a tactical victory Sunday when they found a large stash of foreign bank notes during a routine search of a vehicle near Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad.
Behind the vehicle's panels was hidden $350,000 in U.S. currency. Bills from 15 other countries calculated as worth about $250,000 were also found, according to a military spokesman. Several passports were also recovered.
In other developments, the bodies of a man and a woman believed to be Westerners were discovered just south of Baghdad, an area that has been extremely dangerous for foreigners.
The man, who appeared to be in his fifties, had been beheaded. The woman, described as in her thirties, had been shot in the head, the director of the hospital in Mahmudiyah, Daoud Jassim, told the Reuters news agency.
In Kirkuk, the ethnically volatile oil center in Iraq's north, several hundred Kurds marched for a second day, stoking long-standing tensions over housing and jobs. The Kurds demanded that the new government act faster to reverse the legacy of "Arabization," in which Saddam Hussein's government sent in Iraqi Arabs, often giving them homes and jobs formerly held by Kurds.