Shelling continues in Fallujah as official says 1,000 insurgents killed; U.S., Iraqi reinforcements sent to Mosul

Saturday, November 13th 2004, 10:26 am
By: News On 6

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) _ Backed by tanks and artillery fire, U.S. troops launched a major attack Saturday against insurgent holdouts in southern Fallujah, hoping to finish off resistance in what had been the major guerrilla bastion of central Iraq, as an Iraqi official estimated that about 1,000 insurgents had been killed so far in the weeklong offensive.

In the northern city of Mosul, a car bomb exploded as an Iraqi National Guard convoy passed by, witnesses said. In recent days, an armed uprising in sympathy with Fallujah's insurgents has killed 10 Iraqi National Guards and one American soldier since Thursday, the U.S. military said.

The region's governor blamed the uprising on ``the betrayal of some police members'' and said National Guard units arrived to help quell the violence. Also, a U.S. infantry battalion was diverted from Fallujah and sent back to Mosul.

Insurgents appeared to be taking advantage of the lessening of American troop strength around Fallujah as U.S. commanders report an increase in small-scale rebel attacks.

All of Fallujah appeared engulfed in thick, black smoke as the latest U.S. attack began at midday Saturday amid the crackle of machine guns and the flashes of fire from muzzles of American tanks arrayed around the city's southern rim. A single minaret stood out against the blackened southern skyline.

About 1,000 insurgents had been killed and another 200 captured during the Fallujah operation, Iraq's national security adviser Qassem Dawoud said on national television.

``We are just pushing them against the anvil,'' said Col. Michael Formica, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade. ``It's a broad attack against the entire southern front.''

Marines in northern Fallujah were hunting for about a dozen insurgents dressed in National Guard uniforms after reports they were wandering the city.

``Any (Iraqi National Guard) or (Iraqi special forces) not seen with the Marines are to be considered hostile,'' Lt. Owen Boyce, 24, of Hartford, Conn., told his men.

Overnight, two city mosques were hit by airstrikes after troops reported sniper fire from inside. On Saturday, two Marines were killed by a homemade bomb southeast of Fallujah.

As the U.S. Army and Marines attacked inside Fallujah from the north, the Marines' 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion blocked insurgents from fleeing. U.S. officials estimate there are about 1,000-2,000 insurgents in the towns and villages around Fallujah who were not trapped inside the city during the U.S.-Iraqi siege, which began Monday.

A U.S. warplane dropped a 500-pound bomb to destroy an insurgent tunnel network in the city Saturday, according to CNN embedded correspondent Jane Arraf.

U.S. officials said they hoped the attack would be the final assault on Fallujah, followed by a house-to-house clearing operation to search for boobytraps, weapons and guerrillas hiding in the rubble.

The fierce fighting has taken its toll on the Americans: at least 24 troops have died in the assault, and 73 more U.S. soldiers from Iraq were flown Saturday to a military hospital in Germany, most of them wounded in the battle for Fallujah, officials said.

The number of arrivals this week is up to 412, hospital spokeswoman Marie Shaw said.

A four-vehicle convoy of the Iraqi Red Crescent carrying humanitarian assistance arrived at the heart of Fallujah on Saturday after the Iraqi and American troops allowed them to pass.

West of Baghdad on a highway stretching toward Fallujah, U.S. airstrikes and clashes between U.S. troops and rebels left four people dead and 29 others wounded, police and hospital officials said Saturday.

U.S. and Iraqi forces launched their mass ground assault against Fallujah late Monday after the city's hardline clerical leadership refused to hand over extremists, including Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has a $25 million bounty on his head from the Americans.

The clerics insisted al-Zarqawi was not there, and U.S. officials confirmed the arrest of about 14 suspected foreign fighters. U.S. and Iraqi officials wanted to restore control of Fallujah and other Sunni militant strongholds before national elections due by Jan. 31.

Dawoud said Saturday that al-Zarqawi and Fallujah leader Abdullah al-Janabi ``have escaped.'' He also estimated that 90 percent of Fallujah's residents evacuated before the assault.

With resistance in Fallujah waning, U.S. and Iraqi forces began moving against insurgent sympathizers among the country's hardline Sunni religious leadership, arresting at least four clerics and raiding offices of groups that spoke out against the assault.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military said four American helicopters had been hit by insurgent ground fire in two separate attacks near Fallujah. Their uninjured crews returned to base safely.

Before Saturday's offensive, U.S. forces reported that mortar fire from inside Fallujah had nearly ceased but insurgent mortar attacks against U.S. positions and bases outside the city had stepped up.

Violence flared elsewhere in the volatile Sunni Muslim areas, including Mosul. A U.S. soldier was killed in Baghdad as clashes erupted Friday in at least four neighborhoods. Clashes also broke out from Hawija and Tal Afar in the north to Samarra and Ramadi in central Iraq.

The most serious uprising occurred in Mosul, a city of about 1 million people 220 miles north of Baghdad, where insurgents targeted bridges, police stations and government buildings starting Thursday.

The 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, a unit of the 25th Infantry Division, was ordered out of Fallujah and back to Mosul late Thursday.

On Saturday, a car bomb detonated as a seven-vehicle convoy of Iraqi National Guards passed by the main road in the eastern Nour district, injuring seven guardsmen, two critically, said Radwan Hannoun of the Jumhuri Hospital.

Iraqi authorities requested reinforcements into the city after police abandoned their posts. On Saturday, Iraqi National Guardsmen, many of them ethnic Kurds, were seen patrolling parts of the city, while insurgents were seen elsewhere.

In a radio statement, Mosul Gov. Duriad Kashmoula blamed the uprising on ``the betrayal of some police members.'' Kashmoula said more National Guard units had arrived to help restore order, and 40 insurgents had been killed in fighting.

Some witnesses reported seeing armed men wearing traditional Kurdish attire standing guard in at least three areas of the city. The Kurds are the most pro-American of Iraq's various ethnic and cultural groups.

In Fallujah, Saif al-Deen al-Baghdadi, an official of the insurgents' political office, urged militants to fight U.S. forces outside Fallujah.

``I call upon the scores or hundreds of the brothers from the mujahedeen ... to press the American forces outside'' Fallujah, al-Baghdadi said in a telephone interview late Friday with Al-Jazeera television.

``Ayad Allawi's government ... represents the fundamentalist right-wing of the White House and not the Iraqi people,'' he said _ a reference to Iraq's prime minister, who gave to the go-ahead for the Fallujah invasion.