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U.S. Bombards Al-Fallujah; Car Bombs In Samarra

6 November 2004 -- Ahead of an expected major assault on insurgents there, U.S. forces bombarded the rebel-held city of Al-Fallujah overnight, the heaviest air and artillery strikes on the city in months. While that assault appears imminent, insurgents struck in another Iraqi city, killing some 33 people in a series of car-bomb blasts in Samarra.

Air strikes and shelling lit up the sky and shook the east and north of the rebel-held city of Al-Fallujah overnight. Residents say it was one of the heaviest bombardments of their city in months.

This morning, they surveyed the damage. Among the buildings hit, a small hospital that was reportedly empty at the time.

"After Tarawih prayer [a special prayer during the month of Ramadan] at night, U.S. troops fired two missiles on this building, which is a hospital built with the help of Saudi Arabia to help Al-Fallujah's people," one resident said. "Is [Jordanian militant] Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi here? There are no mujahedin here, no fighters. I'm asking the Iraqi government, 'We are your sons, if you are a national government, don't do it [attack Al-Fallujah].'"

The Iraqi government is demanding that locals surrender militants believed to be using Al-Fallujah as an operating base, including Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. But city leaders insist al-Zarqawi, who is wanted for a series of deadly attacks and beheadings, is not in Al-Fallujah.

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi warns that time is running out for a peaceful solution.

With U.S.-led forces poised to launch an assault, many of Al-Fallujah's 300,000 residents are believed to have already left the city.

Yesterday, it emerged that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned the United States and Iraq in a letter that an assault on Al-Fallujah would undermine planned elections in the country in January.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher acknowledged differences with Annan, and said Secretary of State Colin Powell had spoken to Annan since his letter was received. "[UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan] has conveyed his concerns about the situation in Fallujah and the steps that are being taken to restore the security and stability throughout Iraq. In this regard, frankly, we differ," Boucher said.

With the Al-Fallujah assault apparently imminent, insurgents today struck with car bombs and attacks on police stations in Samarra, north of Baghdad. A suicide car bomber rammed into a police station, and three car bombs exploded elsewhere in the city. Police say some 33 people were killed, including 19 police officers, and dozens more injured.

U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed Samarra a month ago to dislodge rebels. The operations there and in Al-Fallujah are part of the U.S.-backed interim government's drive to crush a Sunni-led insurgency and retake rebel cities so that elections can go ahead in January. Today's attacks show Samarra is far from pacified.

(compiled from agency reports)

[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]