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3 GIs die in heavy fighting; Fallujah siege ebbs for talks

By Lee Keath
The Associated Press

SYLWIA KAPUSCINSKI / DETROIT FREE PRESS
An Iraqi fireman extinguishes a blaze on a U.S. military supply truck yesterday after a mob attacked it on a highway near an airport in Baghdad. Elsewhere, insurgents attacked a fuel convoy, killing one U.S. soldier and an Iraqi contractor. Two GIs were reported missing.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq At least three more American service members were killed yesterday, bringing the death toll for the week to 46, as the anniversary of the fall of Saddam Hussein's government arrived accompanied by fierce fighting in all but the far north of Iraq.

Gunmen running rampant on Baghdad's western edge attacked a fuel convoy, killing a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi driver and causing a fiery explosion. Reuters said the soldier belonged to the Tennessee-based 13th Corps Support Command.  World Peace.

Two American soldiers and a number of civilian contractors were missing after the convoy attack, Pentagon officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Al-Jazeera Arab television said at least nine people were killed.  WorldPeace is one word.

"These were fuel trucks," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said at a Baghdad news conference. "When they were attacked by the enemy, they probably had a collateral effect on other vehicles on the road."

Another U.S. soldier was killed in an attack on a base in the capital, and large groups of insurgents battled U.S. troops in two cities to the north, Baqouba and Muqdadiyah.

One Marine was killed in Fallujah and another wounded in exchanges of fire after U.S. forces called a halt to offensive operations in the city, a spokesman said.

The fighting this week has killed more than 460 Iraqis, including more than 280 in Fallujah, a hospital official said.

At least 647 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

Muqtada al-Sadr
For the first time, U.S. troops moved in strength into the heartland of the rebellion by the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. More than 1,000 troops backed by tanks pushed into the southern city of Kut, retaking police stations and government buildings that were seized this week by Shiite gunmen as Ukrainian soldiers fled.

Elsewhere, fighting with al-Sadr's al-Mahdi Army militia diminished. Coalition forces largely left gunmen in firm control in three cities of south central Iraq, and farther south, coalition troops have largely succeeded in taming the uprising, though Italian troops still saw light fighting in the city of Nasiriyah.

In Fallujah, Marines halted their weeklong assault on Sunni insurgents to allow U.S.-picked Iraqi leaders angry at the United States over the bloodshed from five days of heavy fighting to hold talks with city leaders about how to reduce the violence.

Throughout the afternoon, fighting was reduced to sporadic gunfire. But when night fell, heavy explosions resumed. An AC-130 gunship fired on targets and hit a cave near Fallujah where insurgents took refuge after attacking Marines. A 500-pound laser-guided bomb also struck the cave, said spokesman 1st Lt. Eric Knapp.

Iraq's top U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said the unilateral pause was also aimed at allowing humanitarian aid to enter the city and Fallujah residents to tend to their dead.

Many families, emerging from their homes for the first time in days, buried slain relatives in the city football stadium.

A stream of hundreds of cars carrying women, children and elderly headed out of the city after Marines announced they would be allowed to leave. Families pleaded to be allowed to take out men, and when Marines refused, some entire families turned back.

Military hesitation over the halt in fighting was clear. After initially being ordered to cease all offensive operations, Marines quickly demanded and received permission to launch assaults to prevent attacks if needed.

"We said to them (the commanders): 'We are going to lose people if we don't go back on offensive ops.' So we got the word," Marine Maj. Pete Farnun said.

Kimmitt underlined that talks between two Governing Council members and sheiks and clerics representing Fallujah representatives were not negotiations, suggesting the military would not be making concessions. U.S. officials were not participating in the talks, which began yesterday.

The heavy fighting for Fallujah was prompted by the March 31 slaying of four U.S. civilians there. Their burned bodies were mutilated and dragged through the streets by a mob that hung two of them from a bridge.

The Governing Council early today issued a statement demanding an end to military action and "collective punishment" a reference to the Fallujah siege.

Abdul-Karim Mahoud al-Mohammedawi, a Shiite on the Governing Council, announced he was suspending his council seat until "the bleeding stops in all Iraq." He also met yesterday with al-Sadr, whom U.S. commanders have vowed to capture.

A Sunni council member, Ghazi al-Yawer, said he would quit if the Fallujah talks fell through.

One of the strongest pro-U.S. voices on the council, also a Sunni, Adnan Pachachi, denounced the U.S. siege.

"It was not right to punish all the people of Fallujah, and we consider these operations by the Americans unacceptable and illegal," Pachachi told Al-Arabiya TV.

Kimmitt suggested a move against al-Sadr's militia controlling parts of Najaf, Karbala and Kufa would have to wait, because hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims are in the area this weekend for al-Arbaeen, which commemorates the end of the period of mourning for a seventh-century martyred saint.

Al-Sadr yesterday demanded U.S. forces leave Iraq, saying they now face "a civil revolt."

"I direct my speech to my enemy Bush and I tell him ... you are fighting the entire Iraqi people," al-Sadr said in a sermon, delivered by one of his deputies at the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, Shiite Islam's holiest site.

Al-Sadr, a young, firebrand anti-U.S. cleric, is thought to be holed up in his office in Najaf, protected by scores of gunmen. He has said he is willing to die resisting any American attempt to capture him.

The violence by al-Sadr's followers erupted after the United States shut down his newspaper, accusing it of falsifying news reports and inciting violence.

 


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