15 November 2004, Volume
IRAQ DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY.
The interim Iraqi government declared a state of emergency on 7 November, international media reported. Tha'ir al-Naqib, a spokesman for Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, announced the decision, effective immediately, during an internationally broadcast 7 November news conference. The state of emergency will be in place for 60 days and applies to the whole of Iraq except the northern region of Kurdistan. The interim government reserved the right to declare a state of emergency when it introduced the National Safety Law on 7 July. Under the National Safety Law, a state of emergency can only be declared for a period of 60 days, but may be renewed with the approval of the interim cabinet and presidential council. The declaration of a state of emergency was expected as the interim government takes steps to establish security ahead of the January elections. Iraqi media reported in recent days that the elections have been scheduled for the last week in January. Prime Minister Allawi gave details on the state of emergency during an 8 November press briefing. (Kathleen Ridolfo)MILITANTS MAINTAIN FOCUS ON IRAQI POLICE.
Militants continued to target Iraqi police forces in several cities last week. Gunmen attacked three Iraqi police checkpoints in Kirkuk on 12 November, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Kirkuk Police Director Colonel Arkan Hamad said that unidentified militants ambushed the checkpoints, which are regularly used by U.S. forces. Hamad said that the militants seized weapons and escaped in two police vehicles.
Kirkuk Governor Abd al-Rahman Mustafa escaped an apparent assassination attempt on 11 November KurdSat television reported. The incident occurred when Mustafa's convoy was the target of a car bomb on the Shahidan Bridge in the city. Fourteen people were killed in that incident, including six of the governor's bodyguards. The body of a Kurd who worked as a translator for U.S. forces was found in a bag in the city, MENA reported on 6 November. A note written on the bag said that the same fate will befall everyone who "dares to cooperate with [Israeli] Mossad or the occupation forces," MENA reported.
Mosul remained an insurgency hotbed (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 November 2004) as militants attacked and raided six police stations, setting three ablaze, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 11 November. An RFI correspondent in the city said that militants could be seen roaming the streets, which were deserted. The Ninawah governor imposed a curfew on the city on 10 November, Reuters reported.
AP reported on 12 November that the interim government fired Mosul Police Chief Brigadier General Muhammad Khayri Barhawi after reports that some Iraqi police abandoned their positions and in some cases cooperated with militants during the 11 November attacks.
U.S. Central Command issued a press release on 11 November that said U.S. forces had been called into the city after "anti-Iraqi forces exceeded the capabilities of the police on site" in clashes on 10-11 November. Four Iraqi National Guard units have also been dispatched to the city from their bases near the Syrian border, Ninawah Deputy Governor Khisro Goran said. The units are mainly comprised of Kurds who are former peshmerga forces that were incorporated into the National Guard. Militants also attempted to storm a food-distribution center in Mosul, in an attempt to destroy election-registration cards held there, Goran said, AP reported on 12 November. Brigadier General Muwaffaq Muhammad Dahham, the head of Mosul's anticrime unit, was also killed by militants near his home, and his home was then burned down, police sources said.
Militants attacked three Iraqi police stations in Ba'qubah on 9 November, international media reported. Reuters reported that there were conflicting reports coming from the city on the number of dead and wounded. Ahmad Fuad, the official in charge of the city's main morgue, told Reuters that 45 bodies were received following the attacks, adding that 32 people were wounded. He later retracted the figures, denying that any deceased victims of the attacks had been brought to the morgue. Diyala Governorate police chief Walid Abd al-Salam told Reuters that four policemen and four civilians were wounded in the attacks. Reuters cited Abd al-Salam as telling Al-Jazeera that seven militants were killed and four wounded in the clashes.
Reuters reported that a statement attributed to Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn was posted on the Internet on 9 November claiming attacks on three police stations in Ba'qubah that killed more than 45 policemen. Meanwhile, Arab satellite television channels reported on 9 November that gunmen control the cities of Hit and Al-Ramadi. Those reports were not confirmed.
Militants attacked three police stations in the Al-Anbar Governorate towns of Hadithah, Al-Haqlaniyah, and Al-Barwanah, Al-Jazeera reported on 7 November. The attacks left 23 policemen dead, Reuters reported. Twenty-one policemen were captured in the Hadithah fighting, taken to the nearby K-3 oil-pumping station, and killed execution-style. A policeman in Hadithah told AFP that the militants also confiscated weapons and 15 police vehicles.
Twelve national guardsmen were killed execution-style on a riverbank in Al-Latifiyah after militants disguised as policemen stopped their vehicle on 6 November, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported. The guardsmen were on their way home to Al-Najaf after attending a training program in Baghdad. The militants reportedly spared the life of the guardsmen's driver, and sent him to get ransom money in exchange for their handing over the bodies for burial.
Curfew was imposed in Samarra on 7 November after four car bombs targeted police stations in the city a day earlier, killing 34 and wounding 49 people, mostly policemen. Two car bombs detonated in Baghdad on 6 November, one on the Baghdad airport road and the other near the home of Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi.
The Iraqi Police Service graduated some 2,500 officers from basic training courses this week, U.S. Central Command said in an 11 November press release. The recruits were graduated from training programs located in Sulaymaniyah, the Baghdad Public Safety Academy, and from the Jordan International Police Training Center in Amman, Jordan. Nearly 80 women graduated from the Baghdad training program. The recruits were trained on the basics of policing skills and techniques and the ideals of law enforcement in a free society, the press release stated. The graduates will be immediately assigned to duty at stations throughout Iraq. (Kathleen Ridolfo)SALAFI CLERIC ARRESTED AFTER THREATENING CALL TO WAR.
U.S. forces stormed the Ibn Taymiyah Mosque in Baghdad on 11 November, Al-Jazeera television reported. Troops arrested Sheikh Mahdi al-Sumaydi'i, secretary-general of the Da'wah and Guidance Commission.
The Karbala News Network reported on 11 November that al-Sumaydi'i, a Salafi leader, had accused Prime Minister Allawi of "launching a war on the Sunnis." Al-Sumaydi'i also criticized Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for remaining silent about the U.S.-led incursion on Al-Fallujah. The website quoted al-Sumaydi'i as accusing Shi'ite forces of "seeking and instigating the option of war against Al-Fallujah and other Sunni groups."
He said the Shura Council of the Ahl Al-Jama'ah wa Al-Sunnah has decided that it will support the people of Al-Fallujah through military means, adding that practical steps would be taken in the coming days. Al-Sumaydi'i stressed "the right of Arab elements to come to Iraq and stand alongside its people in the resistance." (Kathleen Ridolfo)KIDNAPPERS SEIZE MEMBERS OF IRAQI PREMIER'S FAMILY, DEMAND END TO AL-FALLUJAH SIEGE.
Three members of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's family were reportedly abducted by armed gunmen as they left their Baghdad home late on 9 November, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the next day. The broadcaster quoted a member of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, Muna Ali, as saying the three were a cousin of the prime minister, Ghazi Allawi, his wife, and daughter-in-law. The Islamist group Ansar Al-Jihad reportedly claimed responsibility for the kidnapping through a statement on the Internet, adding that it will kill them unless the assault on Al-Fallujah is halted and prisoners are released.
Relatives of the daughter-in-law, identified as Wasna Muhammad Ja'far Husayni, said in a videotaped message aired on LBC satellite television on 11 November that the woman was in her last month of pregnancy and begged for her release, Reuters reported the same day. (Andy Heil, Kathleen Ridolfo)SUNNI LEADERS VOW SUPPORT FOR MILITANTS.
Muslim Scholars Association Secretary-General Harith al-Dari told Al-Jazeera in an 8 November interview that the "resistance" in Iraq has a legitimate right to fight and that his association supports that right. "Resistance has been legitimate since its first days.... The Iraqis carry out jihad out of their right to defend their country," he said. Al-Dari added that his association has called on Iraqi national guardsmen not to fight alongside multinational forces. "We issued a statement in which we appealed to the National Guard forces to be genuine Iraqi forces to defend the homeland and its sons, and not to fight alongside the enemies. We appealed to them not to obey the orders of the occupation forces." In an apparent threat, he added that if the National Guard "became partners to the occupiers, then it will certainly be considered part of them," implying that he will consider the National Guard a legitimate target of insurgents. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
IRAQI ISLAMIC PARTY WITHDRAWS FROM GOVERNMENT.
The Iraqi Islamic Party withdrew from participation in the interim government on 8 November to protest the incursion on Al-Fallujah, Al-Jazeera television reported. The party issued a statement obtained by Al-Jazeera that accuses the government of collusion with multinational forces in shedding the blood of the Iraqi people.
Iraqi Islamic Party spokesman Farid Sadri confirmed the decision in an 8 November interview with Al-Jazeera, saying, "The party leadership says that there is nothing now that justifies our presence in this government." He added: "As a political party, we recognize the legitimacy of resisting occupation. We believed we could do something to stop the aggression of the U.S. government through political means. So far, our attempts have failed."
Senior party member Muhsin Abd al-Hamid resigned from the interim National Assembly after the party's announcement, Reuters reported on 9 November. Meanwhile, party member and Industry and Minerals Minister Hazim al-Hassani said he will not resign. "I believe that the fate of Iraq is more important than that of a political party, and I will stay with the government," he told Reuters, adding, "I will withdraw from the Iraqi Islamic Party." (Kathleen Ridolfo)AL-ZARQAWI'S GROUP CALLS FOR RELEASE OF CARE WORKER.
A number of jihadist websites on 5 November carried a statement attributed to Tanzim Al-Qa'idat fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, which is affiliated with fugitive Jordanian militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, calling for the release of Care International country director Margaret Hassan, who was kidnapped in Baghdad on 19 October. Her captors threatened in a videotaped message sent to Al-Jazeera on 2 November that they would hand her over to al-Zarqawi if British troops fail to withdraw from Iraq within 48 hours.
Al-Zarqawi's group said in the 5 November statement that it will release Hassan if she is handed over, because the Prophet Muhammad banned the killing of women and children. "We do not target women unless they fight or fall under the category of people whom the Shari'a [Islamic law] permits us to target, including those who take part in plotting" against Muslims. The statement said that Hassan's captors should either prove that she has acted as an agent for the enemy or release her.
A prominent member of the Al-Dulaymi tribe has established contact and initiated a dialogue with the kidnappers in an effort to secure Hassan's release, London's "Sunday Telegraph" reported on 7 November. (Kathleen Ridolfo)VIDEOTAPE OF ARRESTED MILITANTS AIRED.
The interim government released a videotape of 19 detainees it claims are foreign fighters, Al-Arabiyah reported on 8 November. Five of the detainees are Syrian, five Saudi, four Jordanian, two Egyptian, two Iranian, and one is Palestinian. The government said that the men were among 167 people arrested in recent operations, adding that the detainees intended to bomb Iraqi cities. Meanwhile, police launched a bold attack on militants in Al-Latifiyah on 7 November, AP reported on 8 November. An unidentified policeman with the Babil Governorate's police force said that some 60 police officers dressed in civilian clothing ambushed the militants in Al-Latifiyah, killing 25 militants during several hours of fighting. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
EXPATRIATES TO VOTE IN IRAQ'S JANUARY ELECTIONS.
The Iraqi Election Commission has announced that Iraqi expatriates will be allowed to vote in January elections, nytimes.com reported on 5 November. "We've decided to allow Iraqis abroad to vote, and the mechanism will be worked out in the coming days," Adil al-Lami, a supervisor for the Election Commission told the website. "The voting will take place in those countries with a large number of Iraqis," he added.
The United Nations has said that allowing expatriate voting is not feasible in such a short period of time. "We've told them from point one that it's a very risky business," said Carlos Valenzuela, who heads the UN elections advisory team in Baghdad. "People don't realize the potential implications of this. They're huge -- practical, logistical, political. And all this has to be done in the time frame allotted." Commission spokesman Farid Ayyar told AFP that the commission will work to determine in which countries expatriate voting will take place. Iraqis will vote abroad using their passports or identity documents, he said. Some 2 million-4 million Iraqis are living abroad, particularly in the United States, United Kingdom, Jordan, and Iran. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
SYRIA REPORTEDLY TAKING CONCRETE STEPS TO SEAL BORDER.
Syria is reportedly taking concrete steps to secure its border with Iraq, according to media reports in recent days. Reuters reported on 7 November that Syria and Iraq reached an agreement on border cooperation that day.
Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara was quoted as saying that the agreement "will soon be put into force." Al-Jazeera reported the same day that Syria had beefed up security measures at the Abu Kamal (Al-Qa'im) border-crossing point, setting up sand barriers to close the crossing. An unnamed Syrian security official told Al-Jazeera that U.S. and Iraqi troops closed the crossing on the Iraqi side of the border. Baghdad's "Al-Ittihad" on 6 November cited a Syrian customs official as saying on 4 November that Iraq had closed the Al-Walid (Al-Tanf) crossing.
London's "Al-Hayat" cited growing Syrian concerns that the violence in Iraq might spill over onto Syrian soil in an 8 November report. The report contends that Syria had wanted to secure the borders earlier but did not have the resources or political ability to do so. Syrian officials said that with the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 on 8 June that removed the term "occupation" from "multinational forces," Damascus became politically capable of dealing with Iraqi institutions, "Al-Hayat" reported. Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television on 8 November cited Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari as saying that Syrian has agreed to resume full diplomatic relations with Iraq.
In a separate report issued on 8 November, "Al-Hayat" reported that Jordanian officials are also concerned about Al-Qaeda elements that have infiltrated Jordan's borders. The newspaper said that Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups have carried out a number of operations within Jordan's borders over the past three years, adding that most of those operations were unsuccessful. The report cited an unnamed Jordanian official as saying that controlling the Iraq-Jordan border represents one of the biggest challenges facing Jordanian security services. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAN TRAINING KURDS FOR COUNTERINSURGENCY.
The pro-PKK/Kongra-Gel "Ozgur Politika" and "Ortadugu," an Istanbul daily that supports the right-wing Nationalist Action Party, reported on 6 November that the Iranian government intends to use Kurdish tribesmen as militiamen. Iranian officials are quoted as having told their Turkish counterparts that they will train, arm, and pay the Kurds. "Ozgur Politika" added that these forces are cooperating with Iran's Intelligence and Security Ministry, they will be used against Kurdish insurgents, and this is part of an earlier Iran-Turkey joint security operation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12, 19, 26 July, and 9 August 2004).
"The Boston Globe" on 7 November cited PUK officials who charged that Iran is aiding members of the Kurdish Ansar Al-Islam group and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group in Iraq.
A firefight erupted between Iranian soldiers and eight men with the PKK/Kongra Gel, the Baztab website reported on 9 November, and one soldier was wounded. The incident occurred in the Dalman region near the West Azerbaijan Province city of Urumiyeh. According to Baztab, PKK splinter groups sometimes infiltrate to extort food or money from villagers.
Tehran's imputed actions could be linked with a report in the 28 June issue of "The New Yorker" suggesting that Israeli military and intelligence specialists are training Kurdish commandos and have penetrated Iranian territory to install devices that target suspected Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran's arming of villagers in the northwest and forming them into civil-defense units could have another explanation. An identical development took place along the eastern borders several years ago (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 September and 30 October 2000), and the creation of such units is a common counterinsurgency tool. (Bill Samii)
COALITION MAY DWINDLE AFTER IRAQI ELECTIONS.
A number of coalition member states are considering or have already decided that their forces will begin withdrawing from Iraq after national elections in January. This could affect the ability of multinational forces to rein in militants if the militants misinterpret this development as a sign of reduced international support for the coalition.
A possible redeployment of Polish forces from Iraq would represent a significant loss for the coalition. Poland currently has some 2,500 troops located in south-central Iraq, with thousands of multinational forces under its command. But the government remains divided over the presence of Polish troops in Iraq. According to the "International Herald Tribune" of 5 October, some 80 percent of Poles want their troops to return home. Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said in early October that Polish troops should depart Iraq when UN Security Council Resolution 1546 (8 June 2004) expires at the end of 2005. That resolution endorsed the transfer of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to the Iraqi interim government and set a timetable for national elections and the drafting by 31 December 2005 of a permanent Iraqi constitution.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski confirmed the possible redeployment on 4 October (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 October 2004) saying that it could begin as early as January and be completed by year-end. He told PAP news agency in an interview published on 8 November that Iraq's national elections are "for us a very important point of entry into a new stage." Kwasniewski hinted that his government might be open to the possibility of recommitting troops to Iraq via an agreement reached with the future elected government and the United Nations.
Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka has been opposed to any troop redeployment. He told the Warsaw daily "Rzeczpospolita" in an interview published on 5 October that Polish troops will remain in Iraq. Belka said on 5 November that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq "would be irresponsible," PAP reported the same day. Belka did concede in a 7 November interview with "Polska Zbrojna" that the status of Polish forces in Iraq would have to change when Resolution 1546 expires. "Reducing the size of our contingent, and in the longer-term perspective ending the mission, is above all not a goal in and of itself. We are in Iraq, after all, in order to achieve certain interests, both international ones as well as our own, national ones," he said, adding that Poland should be "flexible" about its presence in Iraq.
The Hungarian government announced on 4 November that it will withdraw its 300 troops from Iraq within five months but the pullout could begin as early as year-end. Hungary's mandate in Iraq expires on 31 December. The government proposed a three-month extension of the mandate through 31 March, but the proposal has yet to receive parliamentary support from opposition members.
Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany spoke about the possible pullout in a 9 November interview with state radio. "We mustn't run away from Iraq, but return home with honor," Gyurcsany said. "But to do so, it is necessary to carry out what we have undertaken, notably to be there during the time of the democratic election that is considered to be the most important condition of a democratic settlement [in Iraq]." Polls show 60 percent of Hungarians want their troops home, AP reported on 5 November.
Portugal announced on 7 November that it would extend its mission, due to expire next week, for another 90 days in order to provide support during January's elections, AFP reported. Portugal deployed 128 national guardsmen to Al-Nasiriyah in November 2003.
Bulgaria appears to remain committed to keeping its forces in Iraq, but will likely reduce them from 483 to 430, according to media reports. Bulgarian troops on 8 November completed a relocation of its forces from Karbala to Al-Diwaniyah. The government announced that it has allocated 40 million levs (about $26.6 million) in support for its battalion in Iraq in 2005, novinite.com reported on 7 November.
Singapore also intends to reduce its forces from 191 to 32, while Moldova will reduce its troop commitment from 42 to 12, nytimes.com reported on 4 November.
Slovakian Defense Ministry spokesman Zenon Mikle said that Slovak troops would remain in Iraq and that the government is not considering withdrawing its forces "for the time being," sme.sk reported on 5 November. Mikle said that the situation could change depending upon the situation following January elections. Slovakia's 102 soldiers in Iraq are carrying out humanitarian tasks including mine clearing.
The Czech Republic extended its mandate in Iraq on 4 November by two months in order to help provide security during elections. The mandate was scheduled to end on 31 December. The Czech Republic has some 100 military policemen in Iraq. Czech Defense Minister Karel Kuehnl said in October that the country will propose a training program inside the Czech Republic for future Iraqi officers (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 15 October 2004). The military may also contribute surplus military equipment to the Iraqi armed forces. Recent media reports also indicate that Czech doctors will remain in Iraq.
Dutch officials have said that they will withdraw their forces by 15 March. Some 1,300 Dutch troops are serving under British command in southern Iraq, AFP reported on 1 November.
Georgia appears to be the only coalition member set on significantly increasing its deployment to Iraq. The government announced on 6 November that it will increase its force from 159 to 850 soldiers, AP reported. Those troops will mainly be tasked with providing protection for United Nations facilities and personnel ahead of January elections.
Fiji will send some 174 soldiers to Iraq next week to help provide security for UN officials and facilities in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 October 2004).
The United Kingdom, Australia, and Italy -- the staunchest supporters of the coalition -- appear committed to maintaining their current troop levels. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said in a 7 November interview that troops may pull out of Iraq by December 2005, but added that any redeployment would hinge on a number of factors related to security issues inside Iraq, news.com.au reported on 8 November. The United Kingdom has some 12,000 troops in Iraq, while Italy has about 3,100 soldiers there.
Spain, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, the Philippines, Thailand, Norway, and New Zealand have all withdrawn or plan on withdrawing their troops from Iraq by year-end -- a total loss of about 2,800 troops.
The pullout of coalition members may affect security conditions in Iraq, but more importantly may be misinterpreted by militants in Iraq as an sign that the redeployments as a lessening of international support for the U.S.-led coalition. That perception can be overcome if the government elected in January takes immediate steps to seek a new UN mandate in support of multinational forces, possibly even months ahead of the current resolution's expiry. Regardless of the countless statements by some Iraqi officials that call for a withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq, the reality is that Iraq's security forces remain small in number, inexperienced, and vulnerable to desertion. If Iraq is to drive the insurgency outside its borders and rebuild its infrastructure, it will need the help of the U.S.-led coalition for many months to come. (Kathleen Ridolfo)IRAQI LEADER IN BRUSSELS FOR EU SUMMIT.
Prime Minister Allawi met with European Union leaders at the EU summit in Brussels on 5 November, international media reported. The summit addressed the details of a 31.5 million-euro ($41.8 million) package to support elections in Iraq, the EU's website reported on 4 November (http://www.europe.eu.int). The European Commission has also pledged to fund a number of additional programs to support the election process in Iraq, including a collaborative program with the United Nations and the Iraqi Election Commission to train Iraqi election observers. The website noted that the new pledges bring the commission's total 2003-04 contribution to Iraq to nearly 320 million euros. Proposals for a 2005 aid package to Iraq currently sets the aid figure at about 200 million euros.
Allawi drew sharp criticism from EU leaders on 4 November after labeling some of them "spectators" for not taking a more active role in the U.S.-led coalition supporting Iraq, international media reported the same day. Allawi told reporters during a 4 November press conference in Rome: "From this podium, I call on the countries which took a spectator role with regard to the Iraqi issue to cooperate with us to build a better Iraq and a better future. Iraq is determined to return to the international community, and it is also determined to make the international community return to it."
The EU's Dutch presidency commented on Allawi's remarks before the opening session of the summit in Brussels. "That has angered some in Paris, and I think that the language used was not the most felicitous one, and we will certainly say something about it tonight," Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot told reporters, AFP reported on 4 November. "But what matters is that we strike a positive note and that we discuss with Mr. Allawi the future and not look back too much," he added. (Kathleen Ridolfo)
THE FIGHT TO TAKE BACK AL-FALLUJAH
By Kathleen Ridolfo
Prime Minister Iyad Allawi kept his word after weeks of warning and authorized U.S. and Iraqi forces to launch a large-scale incursion into the volatile city of Al-Fallujah on 8 November.
Allawi spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib announced on 7 November that the interim government's negotiations with Al-Fallujah representatives had failed to reach a peaceful solution, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 7 November. Al-Naqib said that the door would remain open for talks, even if a major incursion was launched, leaving no doubt that an offensive attack was imminent.
Some 350 British soldiers of the Black Watch regiment moved to secure the east bank of the Euphrates River in an effort to block militants from moving north from Baghdad, London's Sky News reported on 7 November. British forces also took up positions in the desert west of Baghdad, Sky News reported.
Prime Minister Allawi's office announced on 8 November that it was imposing a number of security measures on the city, including a curfew; the closure of roads, except for emergency cases; the closure of public institutions, aside from hospitals, fire departments, and other pubic-service departments; and a ban on weapons. Allawi also ordered the Baghdad International Airport, located just east of Al-Fallujah, closed to civilian flights for 48 hours. The interim government also closed the country's borders with Syria and Jordan except for essential travel and the transport of foodstuffs.
The first objective of U.S.-led forces was to secure a hospital on the western outskirts of the city on 8 November; two key bridges over the Euphrates River were also secured in the early morning hours, AP reported. About 10,000 U.S. forces and 2,000 Iraqi forces launched a full-scale assault on an estimated 3,000 militants in the city after sundown on 8 November.
U.S. Lieutenant General Thomas Metz told an 8 November press briefing at the Pentagon that suspected Al-Qaeda-linked Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was probably not in the city of Al-Fallujah, RFE/RL reported.
CNN cited U.S. military officials on 9 November as saying that militants in the city were not as coordinated as expected. Tank-company commander Captain Robert Bodisch told Reuters, however, that insurgents were "putting up a strong fight," the agency reported on 9 November. Al-Arabiyah also reported heavy street fighting in the city, with its correspondent reporting that he saw four U.S. tanks burning. He claimed that U.S. forces bombed a medical center in the city, killing "scores" of doctors, medical staff, and patients. Doctors at Al-Fallujah Hospital said there are no surgeons on duty in the city, adding that at least 15 civilians were killed in fighting on 8 November, Reuters reported. Iraqi State Minister for National Security Affairs Qasim Dawud told Al-Arabiyah in an 8 November interview that the operation was code-named Operation Walfajr, or Daybreak.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told AP on 9 November that military operations in Al-Fallujah will not last long, adding that restoring security to the city was crucial for the January election. "This is the only way for us to [achieve] any credibility to hold general elections throughout the country. All of Iraq should be conducive to such voting, and no area should be outside the government," al-Zebari said.
By the fourth day of fighting on 12 November, U.S. military officials at the Pentagon said they believed they had control of 80 percent of the city. U.S. forces had trapped militants in the southern section of the city, Reuters cited U.S. Marine officials as saying on 12 November; AP cited military officials as saying that some 600 militants were killed in four days of fighting. Eighteen U.S. and five Iraqi troops were also killed; some 178 U.S. and 34 Iraqi soldiers have been wounded in the offensive, according to casualty figures released on 11 November. By day-end, the Pentagon said that 22 U.S. soldiers had died over the past week in Al-Fallujah.
"They can't go north because that's where we are. They can't go west because of the Euphrates River, and they can't go east because we have a huge presence there. So they are cornered in the south," Marine Master Sergeant Roy Meek told Reuters. U.S. forces destroyed the Hajj Husayn Mosque in the city in overnight bombing, Reuters reported, citing a U.S. military source as saying that mosques are considered legitimate targets if militants use them for military purposes. The commander of the U.S. 1st Marine Division, Major General Richard Natonski, said troops have found arms caches in "almost every single mosque" in Al-Fallujah, AP reported. Allawi spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib said that some 150 militants had surrendered to U.S. forces. Al-Naqib said that the government will announce a general amnesty that will include the militants. Al-Diyar television cited al-Naqib as saying that the men did not commit crimes against the people of Iraq. That report has not been independently confirmed.
U.S. Marines discovered what appeared to be a "slaughterhouse" in the northern Julan district of Al-Fallujah where hostages are thought to have been held and even killed by militants, AP reported on 12 November. Major General Natonski went to the site, telling reporters about a small room with no windows and one door. He said he saw two thin mattresses, straw mats covered in blood, and a wheelchair that was apparently used to transport captives, AP reported.
The news agency also cited a Fox News report that said another Marine battalion found five bodies in a locked house in northwest Al-Fallujah on 10 November. The victims had been shot in the back of the head. Their identities were not known, but they appeared to be civilians, AP reported. U.S. Marines also found the Syrian driver taken hostage with two French reporters in late August in an undisclosed location in Al-Fallujah on 11 November, AP reported. The Syrian reportedly told military officials that he was separated from the reporters about a month ago.