Marines hit back at guerrillas in Fallujah

Marines hit back at guerrillas in Fallujah


FALLUJAH, Iraq — U.S. warplanes pounded Fallujah with 500-pound laser-guided bombs Wednesday and Marines battled insurgents near a train station and in neighborhoods that had seemed to be quieting. American forces decided to delay patrols into the besieged city.

The violence, carried on television, came as the United States was under increasing international pressure to prevent a revival of the bloodshed seen in the city west of Baghdad during the first two weeks of April.

“Violent military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse,” Secretary- General Kofi Annan said. “It’s definitely time, time now for those who prefer restraint and dialogue to make their voices heard.”

Commanders in Iraq said the Marines were responding to guerrilla attacks and that the military was sticking to a more than two-week- old halt in offensive operations to allow negotiations.

“Even though it may not look like it, there is still a determined aspiration on the part of the coalition to maintain a cease-fire and solve the situation in Fallujah by peaceful means,” Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt said in Baghdad.

“What’s going on are some terrorists and regime elements have been attacking our forces, and our forces have been going out and killing them,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld testily told lawmakers in Washington.

Guerrilla attacks broke out in at least three neighborhoods of Fallujah that had been relatively quiet during the past three days. And the U.S. response intensified: when a Marine was wounded, warplanes dropped 10 laser-guided bombs — most of them 500-pound bombs but at least one 1,000 pound — on buildings that were the source of guerrilla fire, Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said.

At least twice, AC-130 gunships opened up on guerrilla positions with their heavy cannons.

Throughout the day, the sound of each battle was heard — the rattle of gunfire and the thud of mortars — then came the noise that often marked Marine strikes to put an end to the fight: heavy explosions, raising flames and palls of smoke.

Guerrillas fired on a train station just outside the city’s northern edge, prompting a battle in the Golan neighborhood, an insurgent bastion. Fighting also erupted on the northeast, southeast and in the center of the city.

The extent of the battle was difficult to gauge. Witnesses reported at least 25 buildings wrecked by fighting. Hospitals counted only 10 wounded Iraqis, but ambulances could not reach areas where fighting was going on, and residents reported large numbers of dead and wounded.

Late in the day, Byrne said that Marine patrols into the city due to start today had been delayed a day.

The United States decided over the weekend to send in the patrols of Marines and Iraqi security forces to establish a semblance of control over the city.

But with tensions rising, Marines moving on foot through the city streets would almost inevitably draw guerrilla attacks — which could then trigger heavier fighting.

Several families were seen fleeing the city Wednesday during the battles, the latest to puncture a tattered cease-fire in Fallujah.

“I was pinning some hope on the truce. The American air bombing dashed my hopes,” Ali Muzel said as he escorted his wife and five children to Baghdad.

A third of the city’s 200,000 residents fled earlier.

Copyright Copley Press Inc. 2004

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