US troops vowed yesterday to seize total control of Fallujah within 48 hours, as kidnappers threatened to kill at least two members of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's family unless the assault was stopped.
As the noose tightened around the besieged Iraqi city, seen as the epicenter of an insurgency gripping Iraq, violence raged elsewhere, with six Iraqi guards and one US soldier killed in a string of roadside bombings, while armed men stormed through the main northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Allawi has vowed to crush the rebellion ahead of elections planned for January and sees the fight for Fallujah as key to achieving this goal.
But the tough-talking premier's own family became caught up in the mayhem after a gang in three cars abducted his cousin, Ghazi Allawi, his cousin's wife and daughter-in-law on Tuesday, a source from Allawi's political party said.
A previously unknown group threatened to kill the three within 48 hours unless Allawi halts the assault on Fallujah and releases all Iraqi prisoners in an Internet statement yesterday.
It was impossible to authenticate the statement.
The prime minister's office confirmed the kidnapping of the 75-year-old cousin and his daughter-in-law but gave no information on the wife.
They were taken from the cousin's house in southern Baghdad, but there was no mention about whether any demands had been made.
"This act will not bend the will of the government to fight terrorism," Allawi's official spokesman said in a statement.
The drama unfolded as US marines announced that they expected to take complete control of the Iraqi rebel bastion of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, within 48 hours if their assault continues on course.
"If everything goes as planned we will take full control of the city in the next 48 hours," a US military officer.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the officer said the marines would need up to a week to make the northeast corner of Fallujah safe "and at least 10 days to clear the city."
"For now we are clearing pockets of resistance," the officer said. "We had lots of IEDs," military speak for home-made explosive devices, left for unwary troops, and a favorite technique of insurgents in Iraq.
Acting on the orders of Allawi after weeks of heavy bombardment, US Marines backed by Iraqi troops Monday evening stormed Fallujah, west of Baghdad, in an assault dubbed Operation Dawn.
By yesterday morning, a senior military official said the military already controlled 70 percent of the rebel enclave.