us "wins" in the fallujah ghetto

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    Iraq eyes end to Fallujah fight

    Iraq says the battle to retake the rebel bastion of Fallujah is over, with more than 1,000 insurgents killed.

    But the US military, which has spearheaded the six-day assault, says commanders on the ground have yet to declare the operation over.

    "Operation Fajr [Dawn] has been achieved and only the malignant pockets remain that we are dealing with through a clean-up operation," said Iraq's secretary of state for national security, Qassem Daoud.

    But Mr Daoud says the country's most wanted man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and a militant cleric who was one of his top aides have escaped from Fallujah, which Zarqawi's supporters had made their base.

    "Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Abdullah Junabi have fled, leaving their supporters to taste death," Mr Daoud said.

    Asked about the situation in the south of the city, where violent clashes erupted this weekend, Mr Daoud said: "The mission is accomplished and there only remains these few pockets, which are being cleaned up."

    Cautious

    Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi was more cautious.

    "I expect that today or tomorrow all the operations will end," Dr Allawi said on a visit to Nasiriyah. "We still need to clear those who are hidden here or there."

    US marine spokesman Lieutenant Lyle Gilbert says the largest military offensive in Iraq since last year's invasion still rumbles on.

    "Military commanders and troops on the ground will make their determination [of when the battle is finished] and to this point that determination has not been made," he told AFP.

    "We will continue to engage pockets of resistance in the city and eliminate them one-by-one until the job is done," Lt Gilbert said.

    The assault, which followed an April attack by US-led forces that ended in a stalemate with rebels in control and hundreds dead, is aimed at ending Iraq's insurgency so elections can go ahead as planned in January.

    Savage fighting

    Mr Daoud says more than 1,000 insurgents have been killed and 200 captured so far.

    As recently as Friday night, a US marine general said only 80 per cent of Fallujah had been occupied and that savage house-to-house fighting continued, with marines fighting a tenacious enemy.

    "The goal right now is to continue until we have broken their back and their spirit to continue to keep the heat on them," Lieutenant General John Sattler said.

    The military had said that 2,000-2,500 rebels were in the city when the assault started.

    US estimates said at least 600 insurgents had been killed but casualties have been impossible to verify independently.

    -AFP

    In other developments:
    United States troops have prevented a Red Crescent convoy of emergency aid from reaching residents inside the Iraqi city of Fallujah, after allowing it as far as the main hospital. (Full Story)
    Islamic groups including one led by Al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have vowed to take their battle in the rebel city of Fallujah to all corners of Iraq. (Full Story)
    Insurgents have taken charge of some areas of south and western Mosul, holding two police stations and manning road blocks, as Iraq's third largest city appeared to slide out of US and Iraqi control. (Full Story)
 
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