News and Information
US attacks Iraq rebel stronghold
|November 8, 2004
| US-led forces have begun a full-scale attack on the insurgent stronghold of Falluja in central Iraq.
The move, which had been expected for weeks, came after interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi gave the go-ahead.
The BBC's Paul Wood reports very heavy fighting and the sound of massive explosions as US and Iraqi government troops battle their way into the city.
Earlier, they took control of the city's main hospital and two bridges over the Euphrates River.
The top US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said the operation was proceeding on schedule, the Associated Press news agency reported.
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's regime last year.
Your job is to arrest the killers but if you kill them, then so be it
Iyad Allawi, in an address to Iraqi troops
Many of its 200,000 citizens have fled to escape the fighting, but there are still thought to be tens of thousands of civilians in the city.
Reuters news agency quotes a hospital doctor in Falluja, Ahmed Ghanim, as saying that 15 people had been killed and 20 wounded in the fighting.
It is unclear whether he was talking about insurgents or civilians.
Thousands of US and Iraqi troops, backed by tanks and aircraft, are attacking two northern areas of Falluja where insurgents are said to be massed. They are also reported to have seized the city's railway station.
Ahead of the assault, a massive aerial and artillery bombardment took place.
Click below for a satellite image of Falluja
Our correspondent reports that the initial phase of the operation has seen the clearing of booby-trap bombs on the main routes into the city.
He says a US marine officer has told him that huge 2,000lb bombs have been dropped on insurgent positions from aircraft.
Elite Iraqi government troops are in the forefront of the assault, fighting alongside the Americans, our correspondent adds.
In other developments:
* In Ramadi, another town where there has been strong resistance to the US-led troops, suicide attackers are reported to have attacked US forces during clashes
* A US soldier was killed when gunmen fired on a military patrol in eastern Baghdad, the US military says
* A bomb explodes at a Catholic church in the capital, setting the building on fire and reportedly injuring a number of people
* European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana says there is little prospect of Iraq holding national elections in January as planned because of the deteriorating security situation.
Announcing the decision to launch the assault, Mr Allawi also said a series of emergency measures would come into force.
Falluja came under curfew from 1800 local time (1500 GMT), Baghdad international airport is being closed for 48 hours, and the borders with Syria and Jordan are being sealed, except for the transport of essential supplies.
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The people of Falluja will suffer regardless if they are militants or civilians
Aristotelis K, Athens Greece
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This, said Mr Allawi, was to prevent the "terrorists" inside Falluja from leaving the country.
"We have no option but to take necessary measures to protect the Iraqi people from these killers and to liberate the people of Falluja," Mr Allawi said.
"I gave my authority to the multinational forces, Iraqi forces. We are determined to clean Falluja from the terrorists."
Before the assault began, Mr Allawi visited the main US base outside Falluja and spoke to Iraqi troops.
"Your job is to arrest the killers but if you kill them, then so be it," he told them.
Ahead of the attack, armed men in black uniforms were seen taking up positions inside the city.
Prime Minister has power* to:
Restrict freedom of movement, assembly and use of weapons
Cordon off and search suspect areas
Freeze assets of suspected insurgents
Conduct military and security operations in suspect areas with the aid of US-led multinational forces
*Under the National Safety Law passed in July
Analysis: Beginning of end?
Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said to be behind the kidnapping and killing of foreigners in Iraq, has urged resistance against the US-led attack and said victory will come "in a matter of days".
Britain, a key US ally, has backed the assault on Falluja.
"The action by allied and Iraqi forces under way in Falluja would cease now, immediately, if the terrorists and insurgents who are using Falluja as a base for terrorism would lay down their weapons and agree to participate in the elections," said Prime Minister Tony Blair.
On Sunday, Mr Allawi declared a 60-day state of emergency across Iraq in response to the escalation of violence by militants.
More than 60 people have died in two days of co-ordinated attacks by insurgents in an apparent response to the US military preparations around Falluja.
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