us hail falluja success, threats remain

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    IRAQ WRAPUP 6-Iraqis, US hail Falluja success, threats remain
    08:26, Friday, 19 November 2004

    (Adds 104 suspected militants detained in Baghdad )

    By Michael Georgy

    FALLUJA, Iraq, Nov 18 (Reuters) - The Iraqi government and
    U.S. commanders declared their offensive on rebel-held Falluja a
    success on Thursday but U.S. troops still faced dangers in the
    city and guerrillas attacked elsewhere in Iraq.

    A U.S. Marine and an Iraqi soldier were killed before a tank
    "silenced" fighters holed up in Falluja. But the U.S. commander,
    Lieutenant-General John Sattler, declared his force had "broken
    the back of the insurgency" after killing some 1,200 militants
    and taking over 1,000 prisoners.

    Iraq's U.S.-backed interim government also declared the
    operation a success and held out the prospect of residents being
    able to return to the city within days, offering $100 cash to
    each family and compensation for damage to homes and businesses.

    But while 10 days of fighting had deprived guerrilla groups
    of a safe haven, a spokesman for Prime Minister Iyad Allawi
    conceded that many rebels had dispersed, posing threats
    elsewhere that U.S. and Iraqi authorities would have to counter.

    U.S. Marine officers in Falluja, in a report leaked to the
    New York Times, warned of the "outstanding resilience" of an
    insurgency based around both former loyalists of Saddam Hussein
    and Islamists like Jordanian al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

    Guerrillas would continue to disrupt efforts to set up
    reliable Iraqi security forces and to hold an election in late
    January, the Marine intelligence report was quoted as saying.

    That would put pressure on U.S. forces, who have already had
    to return troops from Falluja to other northern and western
    areas where some in the once dominant Sunni Muslim minority fear
    elections will hand power to Iraq's Shi'ite majority.

    Washington says Zarqawi probably escaped from Falluja.



    ATTACKS IN NORTH

    In the north, a bodyguard was killed and four wounded in the
    mortar attack on the governor's compound in Mosul, where Sunni
    insurgents caused mayhem during the U.S. assault on Falluja.

    A U.S. base in Mosul was also hit by mortars and six Iraqis
    died in bombings in the northern oil towns of Baiji and Kirkuk.
    Another roadside bomb in Baghdad also killed an Iraqi.

    Iraqi police and national guards detained 104 suspected
    militants on Thursday in raids around Haifa Street, a rebellious
    Sunni Muslim stronghold in Baghdad. Nine were suspected of
    having escaped from Falluja. U.S. troops were involved in
    backing up the raids.

    In Ramadi, another restive Sunni stronghold west of Falluja,
    U.S. troops clashed with heavily armed guerrillas in the streets
    for a second day, residents said.

    Allawi's spokesman said the scattering of Falluja's rebels
    would make it easier for the remnants to be tracked down: "They
    have dispersed. But now that they have dispersed, we can finish
    them off as quickly as possible," Thaer al-Naqib said.

    In Falluja itself, just west of the capital, Marines and
    Iraqi troops were engaged in the time-consuming and risky task
    of securing the cramped and winding alleys of the city, house by
    house. Fearing booby-traps, snipers and suicide-bombers, Marines
    resorted to blowing up suspect buildings with tank fire.

    "There is still some resistance but it is much less now,"
    Gunnery-Sergeant Ishmael Castillo, a tank commander, told
    Reuters. "I saw about 25 people surrendering in Falluja today."

    "We believe we have succeeded in Falluja because Falluja was
    a safe haven for terrorists and now it is not," Naqib told a
    news conference in Baghdad, where he showed pictures of what he
    said were captured arms and a basement "torture chamber".



    RESIDENTS TO RETURN?

    U.S. troops showed one international television reporter a
    compound which they said appeared to have been a command centre.

    A mural showed crossed rifles with a hand pointing skywards
    over them and the words "God" and "Al Qaeda Organisation" in
    Arabic. Zarqawi's group, which has claimed responsibility for
    major suicide car bombings and beheading foreign hostages, calls
    itself the Al Qaeda Organisation for Holy War in Iraq.

    At what the troops said was a plant for making car bombs,
    car parts lay around that could be packed with explosives.

    Naqib said that Falluja's population of 300,000, many of
    whom fled before the long-heralded offensive began last Monday,
    could start returning within days, once the city was deemed
    safe. Officials would survey damage caused during the fighting
    and arrange compensation to rebuild homes and businesses.

    Aid agencies have complained of a humanitarian disaster in
    Falluja and it is not clear quite how long it will take to
    restore basic services for residents trying to return home.

    (Additional reporting by Luke Baker in Mosul, Sabah al-Bazee in
    Baiji and Mussab al-Khairallah, Lin Noueihed, Andrew Marshall
    and Terry Friel in Baghdad)
    ((Writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Elizabeth Piper))



    (c) Reuters Limited 2004
    REUTER NEWS SERVICE

 
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