American military commanders in Iraq are planning a series of major assaults before the end of the year to retake control of Fallujah and other cities held by insurgents.
While commanders say they have not fixed a precise date for the new operation, much will depend on the readiness of Iraqi police and military police units which would occupy the cities once they have been taken.
“We need to make a decision on when the cancer of Fallujah is going to be cut out,” an unidentified senior US commander told The New York Times. “We would like to end December at local control across the country.”
News of the planned assaults came as a video posted on a website used by extremists showed the apparent beheading of three members of an Iraqi Kurdish party – killed for co-operating with US forces.
A statement accompanying the video was signed by the Ansar al-Sunna Army, a group that in August released footage showing 12 Nepalese hostages being killed.
Reports said the video shows three young men holding up their identity cards before each has his throat cut. A man is then seen cutting off each hostage’s head and the heads are then seen placed on the backs of the victims.
Hostage-taking has been one of the few growth industries in Iraq since Saddam was ousted. Foreigners being abducted attracts most international attention but most of the victims are Iraqi. In Baghdad, businessmen and professionals are the most common victims and many have fled to Jordan and Syria.
US commanders recognise that retaking Fallujah – which they are now bombing on a daily basis – will not be an easy task. What they have not commented on is the likely number of Iraqi civilian casualties in such an operation.
US warplanes and artillery units fired on Fallujah in two operations over the weekend, killing four and wounding six, hospital officials said.
Late on Saturday, warplanes unleashed missiles on a main street in the city centre, killing two people and wounding four, Dr Rafea Heyad said.
The US military said the strikes hit a checkpoint manned by insurgents linked to the alleged terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
“The illegal checkpoint used blockades to disrupt security, intimidate and harass local citizens and interrogate and detain local civilians,” the military said in a statement.
Early yesterday an artillery barrage on an industrial area in the city left two more dead and two others wounded, said Dr Ahmed Khalil of the Fallujah General Hospital. Tanks opened fire on suspected militants who were using a crane, a tractor trailer and other heavy equipment to build fortified positions in an area previously used to mount attacks on US Marines deployed on the city’s outskirts. The US military had no immediate comment about the operation,
In April, when US forces attacked Fallujah in what was essentially an act of revenge for the killing and mutilation of four American security contractors, hundreds of Iraqis were killed and more than a thousand were injured. While more than 1,000 US troops have been killed in Iraq, some estimates suggest that up to 37,000 Iraqis have lost their lives.
The US military claims that in the spring it was just two days from retaking the centre of Fallujah when the operation was halted by Washington. Commanders believe that with the backing of the new interim Iraqi government, the autumn operation will be successful.
20 September 2004 11:36
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