BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Fierce fighting between U.S. Marines backed by fighter aircraft and insurgents using small arms and mortars killed 13 Iraqis in Fallujah overnight, and Secretary of State Colin Powell made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on Friday.
``We have to make sure that these insurgents understand that we will not be deterred ... . The terrorists will be defeated, there can be no other option,'' Powell said after meeting with Interim President Ghazi al-Yawer.
Powell's stop in the capital followed a decision Thursday by Iraqi authorities to abruptly postpone a national conference of political, religious and civic leaders considered a crucial step on the road to democracy.
Officials said the two-week delay of the gathering _ which by law was to have been held by the end of July _ came at the request of the United Nations, which hoped to persuade more Iraqis to participate even as key factions threatened to boycott and others failed to choose delegates. Officials insisted pushing the event back would have no effect on Iraq's first democratic elections, scheduled for January.
A militant group set a Friday deadline to behead one of seven foreign truck drivers if its demands, including a pullout by their company, were not met. The Kuwaiti company said it was sending an official to Iraq to work with Sheik Hisham al-Duleimi, head of an organization of Iraqi tribal leaders trying to negotiate the hostages' release.
Al-Duleimi told The Associated Press that he has been negotiating with Egyptian and Indian officials regarding the captives, but had not yet spoken to the kidnappers.
``I appeal to the kidnappers to be patient and to refrain from beheading one of the hostages and to extend the deadline until positive results can be reached,'' he said.
In northern India, villagers detained 37 foreign tourists, most of them from Britain, to protest the kidnappings of the three Indian workers in Iraq, police said Friday.
The tourists, traveling in two buses, were stopped Thursday night near Santoshgarh village in Una district, the home of two of the three Indian truck drivers being held by kidnappers in Iraq.
Overnight in Fallujah, U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops engaged in an hourslong battle with insurgents, the military said. Witnesses reported hearing scores of mortar rounds fired toward the city's eastern edge, where Americans are based, and planes flying overhead.
The military said the fighting began when insurgents attacked a joint patrol of Marines and Iraqi troops with gunfire, mortars and rocket propelled grenades. The troops responded with gunfire, tank fire and aircraft bombing raids, which hit a building the insurgents had fled to, the military reported.
Twelve auto repair shops and two houses were destroyed in the clashes. U.S. Marines said they suffered no casualties.
Dr. Salim Ibrahim at Fallujah General Hospital said an estimated 13 Iraqis were killed and 14 others wounded in the fighting. Ibrahim said he could not give an exact count of the dead, because many of the bodies had been torn apart.
A wounded man, lying in a hospital bed with his pants covered in blood, tiredly asked, ``What is our fault?'' according to footage from Associated Press Television News. ``My mother and sister were killed.''
A medical worker bandaged a crying toddler's forehead that was covered with blood. ``This is just a child ... does he look like a terrorist?'' an angry man asked.
``Danger to noncombatants is a sad reality of warfare,'' Marines spokesman Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson told The Associated Press. ``Our forces go to extraordinary lengths to minimize the impact of military action upon civilians.''
Johnson added that when insurgent fighters occupy residential areas, ``they exponentially increase the risk for civilians.''
Iraq has been torn by a series of attacks, kidnappings and other violence in the 15 months since Saddam Hussein's regime fell.
Al-Yawer said the recent surge in the attacks, including a car bombing outside a Baqouba police station Wednesday that killed at least 70 people, showed insurgents were growing more desperate.
``I think the bad guys, the enemy, the army of the darkness is getting more helpless and hopeless. That is why they are stepping up these things. Time and the place is on our side,'' al-Yawer said.
An insurgent group linked to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said Thursday it had kidnapped a Somali truck driver and would behead him if his Kuwaiti company did not stop working in Iraq.
Another militant Islamic group posted an Internet warning threatening any Islamic or Arab nation contributing troops to a Saudi-proposed Muslim force for Iraq _ a proposal supported by U.S. officials and Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
``Our swords will be drawn in the face of anyone who cooperates with the Jews and the Christians,'' the group said in a statement posted Thursday. ``We will strike with an iron fist all the traitors from the Arab governments who cooperate with the Zionists, secretly or openly.''
Malaysia's foreign minister, Syed Hamid Albar, said his country will not contribute troops to a Saudi-proposed Muslim force for Iraq, but will not discourage other Muslim countries from doing so.
Yemen and Bahrain have offered help under certain conditions, and foreign ministers from Algeria, Bahrein and Tunisia met Thursday with their Iraqi counterpart to discuss prospects of sending of Arab troops to Iraq. Pakistan could send several hundred troops.