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U.S. Troops Advance Into Al-Fallujah

9 November 2004 -- U.S. soldiers are advancing toward the center of the rebel-held Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah this morning.

There continue to be exchanges of gunfire, and at daybreak smoke was rising from numerous buildings in the city, which was bombarded before and after the ground invasion began from the north of the city yesterday. There are conflicting reports about how far the soldiers have advanced, but several officers said the resistance from insurgents is weaker than expected.

Up to 15,000 U.S. troops and a smaller number of Iraqi soldiers -- backed by air support and armor -- are taking part in the offensive.

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said he had given authorization for the operation to clear the rebel-held city of "terrorists."

The U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said there would be a "major confrontation" in Al-Fallujah.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the assault on Al-Fallujah was unavoidable. "If Iraq is to be free, and a peaceful society, one part of the country cannot remain under the rule of assassins, terrorists, and the remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime," he said. "Every effort has been made to persuade the criminals running roughshod over Fallujah to reach a political solution, but they have chosen a path of violence instead."

Most of Al-Fallujah's 300,000 residents have fled the city. Those remaining told AP they had no running water and were worried about food shortages.

U.S. commanders estimate there are about 3,000 insurgents in Al-Fallujah, many allegedly linked to the Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. In an Internet statement, al-Zarqawi called on Muslims to take up arms against the United States.


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

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