BBC and The Guardian – 2004-11-09 10:39:46
FALLUJAH (November 9, 2004) — US and Iraqi soldiers have seized the northern third of Falluja from insurgents on the second day of a full-scale assault, the US military says. Troops have been advancing towards the centre, fighting rebels armed with rifles and mortars street by street.
Early on Tuesday the US-led troops reached a key objective early — a mosque in the north part of Falluja. US and Iraqi officials hope the assault — deeply unpopular with some Iraqis –will help prepare for January’s poll. It is estimated there could be tens of thousands of civilians still in Falluja.
A correspondent in Falluja for the BBC’s Arabic service says he can see heavy street-fighting in the centre of the city, with US soldiers moving from house to house. Some reports say US units have crossed the central highway in the heart of Falluja.
Earlier, a US tank commander said guerrillas were putting up a strong fight in the north-western Jolan district. “These people are hardcore,” Capt Robert Bodisch told Reuters news agency. “A man pulled out from behind a wall and fired an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) at my tank. I have to get another tank to go back in there.”
Sunnis Leave Interim Government in Protest
The BBC’s Paul Wood, embedded with US soldiers — and whose reporting is subject to military restrictions — says US-led forces reached their first major objective, al-Hidra mosque 1km (0.6 miles) into Falluja from the north, early on Tuesday.
The US military said the building was being used as an arms depot and a meeting point for the leaders of the insurgency. The mosque is surrounded, and Iraqi forces fighting alongside US marines will in due course storm it. Our correspondent says the US military is intensely aware of local political sensitivities.
Hundreds of armed insurgents are reported to have take up positions in the centre of Ramadi, near Falluja. An indefinite night curfew is introduced in Baghdad
Iraq’s largest Sunni-led political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, pulls out of the interim government in protest at the Falluja assault
A suspected car bomb hits an Iraqi National Guard base near the northern city of Kirkuk Rebels attack police stations in Baquba, north of Baghdad, wounding a number of officers There is no indication of casualty numbers from the main assault.
No Way Out
Most of the 250,000 civilians who live in Falluja have fled the city ahead of the offensive. But 30,000 to 50,000 are estimated to remain there, and their escape routes are closed.
Our correspondent says that despite efforts by US forces to select targets carefully, their use of heavy artillery and tanks is bound to lead to civilian casualties. Residents say water and electricity have been cut off. One man who managed to flee Falluja told BBC News that the streets where he had come from were littered with bodies.
The top US commander in Iraq, Gen George Casey, said US and Iraqi troops were facing an estimated 3,000 insurgents inside the city. Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi gave the go-ahead for the assault.
Asked to comment on the start of the Falluja assault, United Nations spokesman Fred Eckhard said Secretary General Kofi Annan was concerned that the attack could “destabilise the country at a critical point in the preparation for the elections”.
Falluja is a predominantly Sunni Muslim city that has been a hotbed of resistance to the US-led occupation of Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein last year.
Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said to be behind the kidnapping and killing of foreigners in Iraq, has urged resistance and said victory will come “in a matter of days”.
USTroops ‘in Centre of Falluja’
The Guardian U.K.
FALLUJAH (November 9, 2004) — US forces were today reported to be in the centre of Falluja after an overnight push through the city’s northern districts. Quoting US military sources, the Reuters news agency said US units were in the heart of the southern Iraqi city. However, there were conflicting reports, with some suggesting fighting closer to the outskirts.
US forces encountered lighter than expected resistance in Jolan — a major insurgent-held district — but heavy street battles were raging elsewhere.
The assault on the north of Falluja came after a night of artillery and aerial bombardment and raids to seize areas on the city’s periphery. US military officials said three troops had been killed and another 14 wounded in and around Falluja over the past 12 hours. There was no immediate information about civilian casualties.
Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents hit back by killing at least 45 people in attacks on three police stations in Baquba, north-east of Baghdad. A car bomb exploded at the entrance to an Iraqi national guard base close to an oil pumping station near the northern city of Kirkuk, killing three people.
Falluja is ringed by US forces, with British Black Watch soldiers guarding the roads to its south. Iraqi troops are following US forces into the city and securing captured ground.
US Colonel Michael Formica said a security cordon around the city would be tightened so that insurgents dressed in civilian clothing would be unable to leave.
“My concern now is only one — not to allow any enemy to escape,” he told the Associated Press. “As we tighten the noose around [insurgents, they] will move to escape to fight another day. I do not want these guys to get out of here. I want them killed or captured as they flee.”
>big>US Reportedly Bombs Hospital>/big>
Residents said a US air strike had destroyed a clinic that had been receiving casualties after US and Iraqi forces seized Falluja’s main hospital yesterday. Sami al-Jumaili, a doctor at the hospital who escaped arrest when it was taken by US troops, said the city was running out of medical supplies and only a few clinics remained open.
“There is not a single surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded,” he told Reuters. “There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can’t move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands.”
Iraq’s US-backed interim government sees Falluja and its sister city, Ramadi, as insurgent strongholds that must be retaken in order for nationwide elections to go ahead in January. The US says 1,000 to 6,000 militants — some followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and some loyal to Saddam Hussein — are based in Falluja.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, said victory in Falluja would not end the insurgency. “These folks are determined. These are killers. They chop people’s heads,” Mr Rumsfeld said.
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