A battle erupted near a mosque in northwest Fallujah yesterday just hours after US Marines said insurgents were now trapped in the south of the city.
Insurgents determined to show they are undeterred by the four-day-old offensive in Iraq's most rebellious city have hit back hard with attacks and bombings elsewhere, causing two days of bloody chaos in the northern city of Mosul.
Heavy gun fire and explosions also rocked Baghdad's flashpoint Haifa street yesterday afternoon. It was not immediately clear what the source of the commotion was.
Iraqi authorities struggling to contain the unrest have imposed curfews on Baghdad, Mosul, Baiji, Ramadi and Fallujah this week.
Heavy fighting resumed in Fallujah's northwestern Jolan district, where resistance had dwindled in the previous 24 hours, a Reuters correspondent with Marines in the area said.
Gunmen emerged on a rooftop beside a mosque as Marine tanks headed for the area. Troops evacuated two US casualties.
Smoke rose from an ice factory on the edge of Jolan after rebels fired three rockets at US forces there, residents said.
The US military acknowledges that insurgent leaders and foreign militants may have fled Fallujah before the attack began on Monday night, but says those who remain are bottled up.
"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 said.
The US military says 18 US and at least 5 Iraqi troops have been killed and 178 American soldiers wounded in Fallujah. Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Steve Boylan said in Baghdad an estimated 600 rebels had died in Fallujah so far.
The Iraqi Red Crescent Society urged US forces and the Iraqi government to let it deliver food, medicine and water to Fallujah, describing conditions there as a "big disaster."
A US military spokesman said the Red Crescent had permission to help the many civilians who have fled Fallujah, but could not say if it had been granted access to the city itself.
In Mosul, armed militants attacked the main headquarters yesterday of a key Kurdish political party during an hour-long gunbattle that killed six rebels as the governor asked for security forces to stabilize the situation.
The move came a day after masked insurgents stormed nine police stations, political offices and other targets, clashing with US troops for several hours, in a possible move to open a second front to relieve pressure on the Fallujah.
Violence in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq has taken a toll on US forces. Two planes ferried 102 seriously wounded soldiers to the main US military hospital in Germany on Thursday, joining 125 who arrived earlier in the week.
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