U.S. military says troops 'occupy' Fallujah
Militants threaten to spread fight; battalion diverted to Mosul
Marco Di Lauro / Getty Images
Marines from the 1st U.S. Marines Expeditionary Force, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines Regiment, Bravo Company, arrest Iraqi men during a house search Saturday, in Fallujah.
MSNBC News Services
Updated: 5:20 p.m. ET Nov. 13, 2004
FALLUJAH, Iraq - U.S. military officials said Saturday that American troops had now "occupied" the entire city of Fallujah and there were no more major concentrations of insurgents still fighting after nearly a week of intense urban combat. Meanwhile, a video obtained in the city showed a masked gunman vowing to take the battle to all corners of Iraq.
A U.S. officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Fallujah was "occupied but not subdued." Artillery and airstrikes also were halted after nightfall to prevent mistaken attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces who had taken up positions throughout the city.
Iraqi officials declared the operation to free Fallujah of militants was "accomplished" but acknowledged the two most wanted figures in the city -- Jordanian terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Sheik Abdullah al-Janabi -- had escaped.
U.S. officers said, however, that resistance had not been entirely subdued and that it still could take several days of fighting to clear the final pockets.
The offensive against Fallujah killed at least 24 American troops and an estimated 1,000 insurgents, and rebel attacks elsewhere -- especially in the northern city of Mosul -- have forced the Americans to shift troops away from Fallujah.
Exploiting the redeployment, insurgents stepped up attacks in areas outside Fallujah, including a bombing that killed two Marines on the outskirts of the former rebel bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad.
Militants threaten to spread fight
A video, obtained Saturday by Reuters in Fallujah, showed a masked gunman reading a joint statement from several including one led by al-Qaida ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, vowing to take their battle in the rebel city of Fallujah to all corners of Iraq. The speaker also warned Iraqi government workers and soldiers would be targeted unless they stopped work immediately. The video could not be immediately authenticated.
"In response to the crimes and mass annihilation the Muslims of Fallujah are facing, the groups Qaida Organization of Jihad in Iraq, the Islamic Army, the 1920 Revolution Brigades ... announce the spread of the battle to all governorates and parts of Iraq," one gunman read from a handwritten piece of paper.
The bulk of the defenders are believed to be Sunni Muslims from the Fallujah area, but they also include an unknown number of militants from other countries, including followers of Jordan terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It’s unclear whether al-Zarqawi is still in the city; Sunni clerics insist he never was. His followers have been blamed for deadly bombings and the slayings of foreign hostages.Commanders estimate about 3,000 insurgents are dug in their positions in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad. The vast majority of the civilian population of some 300,000 is believed to have fled, the U.S. military said.Insurgent defenses are believed strongest in the Jolan neighborhood, a poor district in the heart of Fallujah. Sunni guerrillas also control other cities north and west of Baghdad. They are distinct from the Shiite Muslim followers of firebrand cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who launched an uprising throughout southern Iraq and parts of Baghdad earlier this year.
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"We warn all employees in the government and ministries, both civilian and military, not to go to work and to announce civil disobedience because remaining at work is doing a service to the Americans and collaborator government.
"Anyone who does otherwise will make himself a target for us." Essential services such as health, water and electricity were exempted, he said.
Some of the 11 groups named have claimed some of the bloodiest bombings, killings and kidnappings in Iraq.
"All citizens must stay away from places where American troops, pagan army and collaborator police are present," the gunman warned in the video.
Military activity also surged along the Euphrates River valley well to the north and west of Baghdad, with clashes reported in Qaim on the Syrian border and in Hit and Ramadi, nearer to the capital.
Nov. 12: The U.S.-led assault on Fallujah entered its fifth day. At least 22 Americans have been killed. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
A series of thunderous explosions rocked central Baghdad after sunset Saturday, and sirens wailed in the fortified Green Zone, which houses major Iraqi government offices and the U.S. Embassy. There was no immediate explanation for the blasts, but the Ansar al-Sunnah Army later claimed responsibility for firing several rockets at the zone. The claim's authenticity could not be verified.
A car bomb exploded on the main road to Baghdad airport, and there was fighting near the Education Ministry in the heart of the capital.
Insurgents also attacked a military base outside Baghdad Saturday, killing one coalition soldier and wounding three others, the U.S. military said. The nationalities of the casualties weren't immediately available.
Baghdad's international airport was ordered Saturday to remain closed to civilian traffic for a further 24 hours, according to government adviser Georges Sada.
The airport was closed for 48 hours under the state of emergency imposed last Sunday and has remained shut under a series of one-day extensions ever since.
At least four people were killed and 29 wounded, police said, during a U.S. airstrike on rebels and clashes Saturday in the Abu Ghraib suburb of western Baghdad. One Iraqi was killed and 10 wounded in fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents in the northern city of Tal Afar.
Flames of fire and heavy black smoke were billowing to the sky after saboteurs attacked an oil pipeline north of Baghdad Saturday night, witnesses said.
The oil pipeline carries crude oil from Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad, to the Dora refinery in Baghdad.
Witnesses said insurgents have virtually controlled the town of Taji for the last several days, distributing leaflets warning people not to leave their houses or open their shops.
The drive against remaining insurgent holdouts in southern Fallujah was aimed to eradicate the last major concentration of fighters at the end of nearly a week of air and ground assaults.
"We are just pushing them against the anvil," said Col. Michael Formica, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Brigade. "It's a broad attack against the entire southern front."
As a prelude to the Saturday assault, a U.S. warplane dropped a 500-pound bomb on an insurgent tunnel network in the city, CNN embedded correspondent Jane Arraf reported.
Four clerics arrested
U.S. and Iraqi forces also have begun moving against insurgent sympathizers among Iraq's hardline Sunni religious leadership, arresting at least four prominent clerics and raiding offices of religious groups that had spoken out against the Fallujah assault.
U.S. officials said they hoped the latest attack would finish off the last pocket of significant resistance in Fallujah. Next was a planned house-to-house clearing operation to find boobytraps, weapons and guerrillas still hiding in the rubble.
In Baghdad, Iraqi National Security Adviser Qassem Dawoud proclaimed the Fallujah assault -- code-name Operation Al-Fajr, or "Dawn" -- was "accomplished" except for mopping up "evil pockets which we are dealing with now."
"The number of terrorists and Saddam (Hussein) loyalists killed has reached more than 1,000," Dawoud said. "As for the detainees, the number is 200 people."
However, Dawoud said al-Zarqawi, whose al-Qaida-linked group was responsible for numerous car-bombings and beheadings of foreign hostages, and the main Fallujah resistance leader, Sheik al-Janabi "have escaped." The United States has offered a $25 million reward for al-Zarqawi.
As U.S. forces pressed their attacks in southern Fallujah, Marines in the northern districts were hunting for about a dozen insurgents dressed in Iraqi National Guard uniforms who were reportedly wandering the city streets.
"Any (Iraqi National Guard) or (Iraqi special forces) not seen with the Marines are to be considered hostile," Lt. Owen Boyce, 24, of Simsbury, Conn., told his men.
U.S. and Iraqi officials want to restore control of Fallujah and other Sunni militant strongholds before national elections scheduled by Jan. 31.
A four-vehicle convoy of the Iraqi Red Crescent carrying humanitarian assistance arrived in Fallujah after the Iraqi and American troops allowed it to pass.
Allawi expresses confidence
In the southern city of Nasiriyah, interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said he expected the operation in Fallujah to conclude by Sunday with a "clear-cut" victory over the insurgents and the terrorists.
"We have captured their safe houses, where they killed people," Allawi said. "We have captured the masks they wore when they slaughtered and decapitated people."
Allawi, a Shiite Muslim, brushed aside suggestions the operation would create a backlash among the country's Sunni minority.
"There is no problem of Sunnis or Shiites," he said. "This is all Iraqis against the terrorists. We are going to keep on breaking their back everywhere in Iraq. We are not going to allow them to win."
Despite the evident military success in Fallujah, U.S. commanders have warned that the insurgency in Iraq will continue -- evidenced by the recent spike in violence in the remainder of the Sunni Muslim regions of central Iraq.
The U.S. command withdrew one battalion of the 25th Infantry Division in Fallujah and returned it to Mosul after insurgents attacked police stations, bridges and government buildings Thursday in clashes that killed 10 Iraqi troops and one U.S. soldier.
Mosul was quieter Saturday, but a car bomb exploded as an Iraqi National Guard convoy sent from Kirkuk passed, witnesses said. Seven National Guardsmen were wounded.
The region's governor blamed the uprising on "the betrayal of some police members" and said National Guard reinforcements -- many of them ex-members of the Kurdish peshmerga militia taken from garrisons along the Syrian and Iranian borders-- had arrived to help end the violence. The events in Mosul cast further doubt on capabilities of Iraqi forces to maintain order -- a key U.S. strategy goal.
Fierce fighting in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq has taken its toll on the Americans. More than 400 wounded soldiers have been transported to the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.