Iraq's interim prime minister said yesterday he has given authority to international and Iraqi forces to rid Fallujah of "terrorists," promising that the "rule of law" would be restored "very soon."
With warplanes pounding the city, US troops fought their way into the western outskirts of Fallujah yesterday, seizing a hospital and two bridges over the Euphrates River in the first stage of a major assault on the insurgent stronghold.
The US military reported its first casualties of the offensive -- two Marines killed when their bulldozer flipped over into the Euphrates River. Ten Iraqis were killed and 11 others injured during the night of fighting in Fallujah, according to doctors.
Throughout the morning, deafening rounds of artillery and mortars pounded targets inside the city and on its outskirts. A US jet swooped low to fire rockets at insurgent positions on the eastern bank of the Euphrates. Airplanes and helicopters were seen circling the city.
With US forces moving in from the northwest and west sides of the city, commanders said the toughest fight was yet to come: when American forces cross to the east bank of the Euphrates and enter the main part of the city -- including the Jolan neighborhood where insurgent defenses are believed the strongest.
US and Iraqi commanders have vowed to stamp out Sunni Muslim guerrillas who control Fallujah, part of a campaign to put down insurgents ahead of vital January elections. Marine commanders have warned the assault could bring the heaviest urban fighting since the battle of Hue city in the Vietnam War.
Some 10,000 US Marines, Army soldiers and Iraqi forces are around Fallujah, where commanders estimate around 3,000 insurgents are dug in. More than half the civilian population is believed to have fled already.
In the first foray into Fallujah proper, Marines secured an apartment building in the northwestern corner of the city by noon, said Captain Brian Heatherman, of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
"The Marines have now gained a foothold in the city," he said.
During a press conference in Baghdad, Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said "terrorists" are not interested in a peaceful settlement and announced that emergency measures would be imposed on the insurgent strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi beginning at 6pm.
Under the emergency measures, Allawi said roads and government institutions in the two cities would be closed. All weapons would also be banned, he said.
Allawi also said that Iraq's borders with Syria and Jordan will be closed off, except for trucks carrying food, and Baghdad's international airport would be shut down for 48 hours.
"Once again, we have seen more criminal acts committed by these terrorists who continue to use Fallujah as a base for their operations."
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