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Iraq: U.S. Forces Continue Attacks On Al-Fallujah

U.S. forces continued attacks on the restive Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah today. Reports indicate at least 15 people were killed in fresh strikes. The attacks follow violence yesterday that killed some 100 people across Iraq. Coalition troops, insurgents, Iraqi civilians, and even a journalist from Al-Arabiya were among the casualties. The car bombings, gun battles and air strikes raise questions about the readiness of Iraq to hold elections just a few months from now. But Iraq's prime minister says the elections will be held, even if hundreds of thousands are unable to vote due to poor security.

13 September 2004 -- The mostly Sunni-Muslim city of Al-Fallujah is one of the hot spots of the anti-American insurgency. Today's U.S. assault included air strikes and artillery.

The U.S. military said jets aimed their strikes on a site where members of a group led by Jordanian-born terror suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were meeting. The military said in a statement: "Intelligence sources reported the presence of several key al-Zarqawi operatives who have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, and multinational forces."

The military said the strikes had achieved their aim, but did not name the operatives.
Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said today that the elections would go ahead even if violence prevented some Iraqis from voting.

Witnesses said the bombing targeted the city's Al-Shurta neighborhood, damaging buildings and raising clouds of black smoke. Witnesses said women and children were among the dead.

Today's fighting followed one of the bloodiest days in Iraq in months. Yesterday, insurgents hammered central Baghdad with intense mortar and rocket barrages, as security appeared to spiral out of control.

At least 37 people were killed in Baghdad alone. Several died when a U.S. helicopter fired on a disabled U.S. Bradley fighting vehicle as Iraqis swarmed around it, apparently looting it.

One of those who died in the helicopter fire was Mazen Tomeizi, a producer with the Arabic television channel Al-Arabiya. Reuters cameraman Seif Fouad, who was wounded in that attack, describes from his hospital what happened: "I saw a helicopter coming in at a low altitude. [Al-Arabiya journalist] Mazen [al-Tomeizi] was trying to move people back to let the camera film the Bradley. Then I was watching the helicopter and there was something wrong. Then, suddenly, it started firing. Mazen fell into my arms."

Three Polish soldiers were killed and three wounded yesterday near Al-Hillah, south of Baghdad, when they came under attack.

The worst fighting was reported in the Syrian border town of Tal Afar, where U.S. forces launched a major operation on 9 September. Fifty-one people were reportedly killed yesterday, a suspected haven for foreign fighters crossing into Iraq from Syria. The U.S. military has not given details that explain the high casualty count in the town.

The violence is raising questions over whether elections realistically can be held in January.

Interim Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari -- in Cairo yesterday -- hinted that the vote could be postponed, saying, "the timetable depends...on the security situation."

Talk of any postponement, however, was dismissed by interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Allawi told the "Guardian" and "The Times" in an interview published today that the elections would go ahead even if violence prevented some Iraqis from voting.

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