U.S. troops pound insurgents in Mosul
U.S. troops pounded insurgents in Mosul, Iraq's third largest city, after guerrillas attacked police stations and bridges in an apparent attempt to relieve pressure on Fallujah, where American forces continued their assault on the rebel stronghold.
Insurgents Thursday tried to break through the U.S. cordon surrounding Fallujah, where an estimated 600 insurgents, 18 U.S. troops and five Iraqi soldiers have been killed in the four-day assault, the U.S. military said. At least 178 Americans and 34 Iraqi soldiers have been wounded.
Smoke rose over Mosul on Thursday as U.S. warplanes streaked overhead. City officials warned residents to stay away from the five major bridges. Militants brandishing rocket-propelled grenades stood in front of a hospital.
Saadi Ahmed, a senior member of the pro-American Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party, said nine police stations were attacked and that "Iraqi police turned some stations over to the terrorists."
"The internal security forces ... are a failure and are ineffective because some of them are cooperating with the terrorists," Ahmed said.
A U.S. military spokeswoman, Capt. Angela Bowman, said it could take "some time until we fully secure" Mosul.
An Iraqi journalist in Fallujah reported seeing burned U.S. vehicles and bodies in the street, with more buried under the wreckage. He said two men trying to move a corpse were shot down by a sniper.
Two of the three small clinics in the city have been bombed, and in one case, medical staff and patients were killed, he said. A U.S. tank was positioned beside the third clinic, and residents were afraid to go there, he said.
"People are afraid of even looking out the window because of snipers," he said, asking that he not be named for his own safety. "The Americans are shooting anything that moves."
Many of Fallujah's 200,000 to 300,000 residents fled the city before the assault. It is impossible to determine how many civilians who were not actively fighting the Americans or assisting the insurgents may have been killed.
Commanders said 1,200 to 3,000 fighters were believed in Fallujah before the offensive.
Elsewhere, a series of attacks throughout central Iraq underscored the nation's perilous security. In Baghdad, a car bomb exploded Thursday moments after a U.S. patrol passed, killing 17 bystanders and wounding 30. There were no U.S. casualties.
A car bomb exploded in Kirkuk as the governor's convoy was passing, killing a bystander and wounding 14 people. Three Iraqis were killed in a shootout between U.S. troops and insurgents in Samarra. Two car bombs injured eight people in Hillah.
Al-Jazeera television aired a videotape showing what the station said was an American contractor of Lebanese origin held hostage in Iraq. The middle-aged man carried a U.S. passport and an identification card in the name of Dean Sadek. Al-Jazeera did not air any audio but quoted Sadek as saying all businesses should stop cooperating with U.S. authorities.
Most of the insurgents still fighting in Fallujah are believed to have fallen back to southern districts ahead of the advancing U.S. and Iraqi forces, although fierce clashes were reported in the west of the city around the public market.
American officers said the majority of the insurgent mortar and machine-gun fire Thursday was directed at U.S. military units forming a cordon around the city to prevent guerrillas from slipping away.
Officers said that suggested the insurgents were trying to break out of Fallujah rather than defend it.
Meanwhile, two Marine Super Cobra attack helicopters were hit by ground fire and forced to land in separate incidents near Fallujah, the military said. The four pilots were rescued, though one suffered slight injuries.
At a U.S. camp outside Fallujah, Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division, said the operation was running "ahead of schedule," but he would not predict how many days of fighting lay ahead.
He said troops had found an arms cache in "almost every single mosque in Fallujah."
Natonski also said he had visited a "slaughterhouse" in the northern Jolan neighborhood where hostages were held and possibly killed by militants. He described a small room with no windows and just one door. He said he saw two thin mattresses, straw mats covered in blood and a wheelchair that apparently was used to transport captives.
U.S. officials believe the al-Qaida-linked terror movement of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who claimed responsibility for many of the kidnappings and beheadings of foreign hostages, used Fallujah as a base. They said they believe al-Zarqawi may have slipped away before the offensive.
In April, Fallujah militants fought Marines to a standstill during a three-week siege, which the Bush administration called off amid public criticism over civilian casualties.
The current offensive was begun so the government can hold national elections in January, although Sunni clerics have called a boycott to protest the Fallujah operation.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said Thursday that "hundreds and hundreds of insurgents" have been killed and captured. He called the Fallujah offensive "very, very successful" but said it would not spell the end of the insurgency.