[ On the eve of Veterans Day in the U.S., the U.S. military fatalities now total more than 1,143 due to the Iraq War, while Iraqi civilian deaths exceed 14,248, and one study concluded that overall Iraqi deaths exceed 100,000. The International Committee of the Red Cross and other groups are concerned about the violence in Falluja.
Muhammad Abbud said he watched his nine-year-old son bleed to death at their Falluja home, unable to take him to hospital as fighting raged in the streets and bombs rained down on the Iraqi city. (Al Jazeera, 9 Nov. 2004)
“Body parts everywhere!” cries a US soldier as a shell crashes onto a group of suspected rebels in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where a punishing torrent of firepower thundered down on Tuesday….
Unconfirmed estimates suggest that as many as 100,000 residents of Fallujah could still be inside the city….
Casualty figures were unavailable from Fallujah, where estimates for the number of its 300,000-strong population who fled ahead of the long-threatened assault vary widely from 20 to 90 percent….
An AFP reporter in the Jolan district said one building in every 10 had been flattened. (Agence France-Presse, 9 Nov. 2004)
Troops move towards central Falluja
US and Iraqi troops claimed to be in control of one third of the rebel stronghold of Falluja today, as a major offensive against insurgents entered its second day.
US army and marine units consolidated positions and began house-to-house searches as they worked their way towards the city centre, opposed by militants armed with rifles and mortars.
There were conflicting reports about the strength of resistance troops faced in a push through the city’s northern quarters. The Jolan district, a suspected rebel stronghold, provided less opposition than military planners expected but heavy battles raged elsewhere.
The fighting appeared to be easing towards the end of the day. Quil Lawrence, a BBC correspondent embedded with troops in Falluja, said: “You can see fierce fighting, though it has quietened down a little with the coming of darkness. The dark gives an advantage to the Americans because of their night vision equipment.”
“I imagine there must be many casualties considering the amount of gunfire I’ve seen. The Americans launch about 500 rounds to the insurgents’ one, pelleting the insurgent area.”
Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents attacked police stations around Baquba, north-east of Baghdad. Four police officers were injured, and police said they had killed seven of the attackers. The official in charge of Baquba’s main morgue initally told Reuters 45 bodies had been received after the coordinated attacks in Baquba, adding that 32 people had been wounded. But he later retracted these figures and denied he had dealt with any dead from the attacks.
A group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is thought to be based in Falluja, said it carried out the attack. In another incident around 50 gunmen attacked a police station in Baghdad. In northern Iraq, a car bomb exploded at the entrance to an Iraqi national guard base close to an oil pumping station near the city of Kirkuk, killing three people.
Ayad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister, imposed a night curfew on Baghdad for an indefinite period and called on insurgents in Falluja to lay down their weapons.
Falluja is ringed by US forces, with British Black Watch soldiers guarding the roads to its south. Iraqi troops are following US forces into the city and securing captured ground. US Colonel Michael Formica said a security cordon around the city would be tightened so that insurgents dressed in civilian clothing would be unable to leave.
“My concern now is only one – not to allow any enemy to escape,” he told the Associated Press. “As we tighten the noose [insurgents] will move to escape to fight another day. I do not want these guys to get out of here. I want them killed or captured as they flee.”
US military officials said three troops had been killed and another 14 wounded in and around Falluja in the past 12 hours. There was no immediate information about civilian casualties.
Residents said a US air strike had destroyed a clinic that had been receiving casualties after US and Iraqi forces seized Falluja’s main hospital yesterday.
Sami al-Jumaili, a doctor at the hospital who escaped arrest when it was taken by US troops, said the city was running out of medical supplies and only a few clinics remained open.
“There is not a single surgeon in Falluja. We had one ambulance hit by US fire and a doctor wounded,” he told Reuters. “There are scores of injured civilians in their homes whom we can’t move. A 13-year-old child just died in my hands.”
Aid workers also expressed grave concern over the plight of tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting. “The majority of civilians appear to have left the city, although it is difficult to establish numbers with any certainty,” said Jennifer Clark, spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Iraq’s US-backed interim government sees Falluja and its sister city, Ramadi, as insurgent strongholds that must be retaken in order for national elections to go ahead in January. The US says 1,000 to 6,000 militants – some followers of Zarqawi and some loyal to Saddam Hussein – are based in Falluja.
Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, said victory in Falluja would not end the insurgency. “These folks are determined. These are killers. They chop people’s heads,” he said.
An influential group of Sunni Muslim clerics called for a boycott of Iraq’s national election in protest against the US-led attack on Falluja. The Association of Muslim Scholars said the vote for a new, permanent government – scheduled for January 27 – was being held “over the corpses of those killed in Falluja and the blood of the wounded”.
The group said it held Mr Allawi’s interim government fully responsible for “the war of annihilation that Falluja is being subjected to today at the hands of the occupation forces and the militias of some of the parties that are participating in the interim government”.
The development will come as a blow to US and Iraqi officials, who have expressed concern that a lack of Sunni participation would raise question about the legitimacy of the vote.
The Muslim Council of Britain added its condemnation, saying it was “utterly appalled” by the attack on Falluja. A spokesman said: “We have long stated that the only solution in Iraq is for all foreign armies to leave and allow the Iraqis to determine their own affairs and regain control of their own territory and resources.