Falluja insurgents fighting to the end

Reuters

Mon 15 November, 2004 15:26

By Michael Georgy and Omar Anwar

FALLUJA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. warplanes have bombarded diehard areas of Falluja as troops hunt remaining insurgents house-to-house while clashes broke out in other Iraqi cities.

The U.S. military says it has taken control of Falluja, but scattered pockets of resistance remain, particularly in southern parts. Large areas lie in ruins, devastated by the ferocity of the military's seven-day onslaught.

Since the U.S. offensive was launched a week ago, insurgent activity has surged across Iraq's Sunni Muslim region.

There have been five days of violence in Mosul, in the north, and there was heavy fighting in Baquba, near Baghdad, on Monday where U.S. jets dropped 500-pound bombs. Rebels also set fire to oil wells and a pumping station across the north.

The U.S. Marine general who commanded the fight to take Falluja said those who remained were the rebel hard core who would be killed. There was no aid crisis in the city, he said.

"What you're seeing now are some of the hardliners, they seem to be better equipped than some of the earlier ones, we've seen flak jackets on some of them," Major General Richard Natonski told the BBC. "But we're more determined and we're going to wipe them out," he said.

While U.S. forces have won a military victory, the process of rebuilding Falluja, assisting around 150,000 residents who fled, and preparing it for January elections could take months.

Iraq's Red Crescent group sent seven truckloads of food and medicine to the city, but U.S. forces blocked the aid convoy at Falluja's main hospital and said it could not enter. The convoy turned back on Monday after three days of frustration.

"It's our third day here at the hospital and all we have done is receive promises from the Americans," Hassan Rawi, a member of the International Federation of the Red Cross, said.

American commanders say they are working to deliver assistance to the city themselves, and urged any Iraqis needing aid to go to Falluja's main hospital, on the western outskirts.

CIVILIAN DEATHS?

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said he did not believe any civilians were killed in the offensive, which has left 38 U.S. soldiers, 6 Iraqi troops and more than 1,200 insurgents dead. But witness accounts contradicted him.

A member of an Iraqi relief committee told Al Jazeera television he saw 22 bodies buried in rubble in Falluja's northern Jolan district on Sunday.

"Of the 22 bodies, five were found in one house as well as two children whose ages did not exceed 15 and a man with an artificial leg," Mohammed Farhan Awad said.

"Some of the bodies we found had been eaten by stray dogs and cats. It was a very painful sight."

Aid agencies have described the situation as a humanitarian disaster, basing their view on the accounts of refugees who have fled and images broadcast on television. A father of seven said his children were sick with diarrhoea and hadn't eaten for days.

In operations in Falluja on Monday, U.S. forces said they had found a bunker with reinforced tunnels leading to stores of weapons, including an anti-aircraft artillery gun.

More than 10,000 U.S. troops have been involved in the operation to wrest Falluja from an estimated 2,000-3,000 rebels.

The Falluja offensive has fuelled violence across Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland, especially in the northern city of Mosul, where gunmen roam some districts following an uprising.

Insurgents overran a police station in Mosul on Sunday and U.S. troops, backed by Iraqi security forces, battled for two hours to retake it, the U.S. military said. At least four explosions shook the city on Monday, residents said.

Two U.S. soldiers were wounded in a car bomb attack on a convoy on the highway leading west from the city of two million.

"I expect the next few days will bring some hard fighting," U.S. commander Brigadier General Carter Ham said in an email. "The situation in Mosul is tense, but certainly not desperate."

There were also heavy clashes between U.S. troops and insurgents in Baquba, about 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad.

U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on insurgents positions after rebels overran police stations and attacked other areas of the city. At least 20 insurgents were killed and four U.S. soldiers were wounded, the U.S. military said.

Another police station in the town of Buhriz, just south of Baquba, was also attacked. There was fighting in areas of Baghdad, in Baiji and in Ramadi, west of Falluja, as well.

An oil storage tank at a pumping station on the main export pipeline to Turkey -- a major artery of Iraq's oil network -- was blown up by insurgents, producing huge flames and smoke.

And a set of four oil wells west of the oil-producing city of Kirkuk, as well as a pipeline carrying oil from Kirkuk to Iraq's major refinery at Baiji, were bombed and set ablaze.