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US pushes to take Iraq rebel city


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US pushes to take Iraq rebel city

US and Iraqi forces say they are facing resistance as they try to wrest control of the city of Samarra from insurgents.

The US says rebels have tried to set up roadblocks, and that its soldiers have had to defuse a possible car bomb.

US forces have also carried out air strikes on the city of Falluja, where seven are reported dead and 13 wounded.

The Americans and Iraq's interim government say they are determined to retake rebel-held areas ahead of January's scheduled elections.

Samarra and Falluja are two of several pockets in Iraq that over the past few months have fallen into the hands of insurgents.

Major offensive

In Samarra, residents said American warplanes bombed parts of the city as tanks rolled through the streets.

Doctors in the city report that five more people were killed overnight.

The US military has stopped giving out precise figures of the number of Iraqis it believes it has killed, but says it has detained more than 80 people.

Before it adopted this policy, it reported that more than 100 insurgents had been killed in the operation, but doctors said the dead and injured included women and children. One US soldier was also killed in the fighting.

Water and electricity supplies in Samarra are reported to have been cut off, and the main hospital says it is short of bandages and oxygen.

The US and Iraqi forces say they control most of Samarra, which lies on the main highway from Baghdad to northern Iraq.

Some 5,000 troops poured into the city during Friday in one of the biggest offensives since the invasion of Iraq.

Iraq's National Security Minister Kasim Daoud told a news conference in Baghdad that the offensive in Samarra was launched in response to a call for help from the city's residents to tackle the insurgents in their midst.

But the attack seemed to take many in the town by surprise, coming after talk in recent days of an imminent agreement between insurgents and the Iraqi authorities for the restoration of government control.

'Civilian casualties'

In Falluja, another rebel stronghold, the Americans report that they conducted a precision air strike on a hideout of followers of the Jordanian militant Abu Mussab Zarqawi.

They say there were no innocent civilians there at the time, but reports from the city say that at least two homes were destroyed, and that once again women and children were among the casualties.

"Several credible intelligence sources confirmed that members of the terrorist group used this location to plan for suicide attacks on innocent civilians and Iraqi forces," said a US military statement.

Overnight in the capital Baghdad, a US soldier was killed by small-arms fire.

Hostages plea

Meanwhile, a militant group, the Islamic Army in Iraq, has said it will free two Indonesian hostages if Indonesia releases Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a cleric suspected of leading the radical Jemaah Islamiah group.

In a video broadcast on al-Jazeera television, the group said the Indonesian government arrested Ba'asyir to "please the Australian government".

Ba'asyir faces charges in connection with the Marriott Hotel attack in Jakarta last year, in which 12 people died, and for possessing illegal explosives.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri went on Arab television on Saturday to appeal to the kidnappers to free the two women hostages, saying they had gone to Iraq to make a living.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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US attacks Falluja 'arms store'

US forces have carried out another air strike on the rebellious Iraqi city of Falluja, the third in 24 hours.

They bombed a building which they said was being used by insurgents as a weapons store.

The attack is said to have happened as up to 15 suspected militants were moving ammunition and weapons, probably killing most of those present.

Elsewhere, the city of Samarra is now largely under the control of US and Iraqi forces after days of fighting.

The operation there is part of a broader move to wrest control of insurgent strongholds.

The Americans and Iraq's interim government say they are determined to retake rebel-held areas ahead of January's scheduled elections.

In other Iraq developments:

Iraqi police report the discoveries of the bodies of a man and woman in Yussifiya, 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of Baghdad; the man had been beheaded and the woman shot in the head

Scores of Iraqi Kurds take to the streets of the northern city of Kirkuk to demand the departure of Arab families settled in the oil centre by Saddam Hussein's regime

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admits he was surprised by the level of anti-US resistance in Iraq, and predicts that the level of violence will remain high at least until January's election

'Civilians killed'

The US military said its attack on Falluja had severely damaged the targeted building, and triggered a wave of secondary explosions that indicated ammunition was being stored inside.

In a statement, it said 10 to 15 rebels suspected of links with Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were in the area at the time.

"A large number of enemy fighters are presumed killed," it added.

Two civilians were killed and 10 injured in the air strikes, the city's hospital said, while another two civilians were killed and two more wounded when a US tank fired on a house in the city's southern suburbs.

Followers of Zarqawi have claimed responsibility for a string of deadly bombings, kidnappings and other attacks in Iraq since the US-led occupation began.

The US military says it has inflicted significant damage on the network during weeks of "precision strikes" against targets in Falluja, which lies 65 kilometres (40 miles) west of Baghdad.


Earlier, American and Iraqi government forces said they had secured about 70% of Samarra, although they were still meeting some resistance.

The Americans say more than 125 insurgents have been killed and 88 detained during the two-day assault on the city, but local doctors report that many civilians have been caught up in the fighting.

"It is over in Samarra," Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan said in an interview with Arab television network al-Arabiya. He said up to $40m was being allocated for reconstruction and compensation to residents of the embattled city.

Reports say residents of Samarra - which lies on the main highway from Baghdad to northern Iraq - are too afraid to venture out.

Witnesses in the centre of the city have spoken of American snipers shooting at anyone who appeared on the streets.

Some 5,000 troops poured into Samarra during Friday in one of the biggest offensives since the invasion of Iraq.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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