US-led troops battling for control of Fallujah yesterday took their fight against rebels to the south of the Iraqi city as scores of insurgents opened a new front in Mosul in the north.
International aid agencies warned about the plight of civilians trapped in battle-scarred Fallujah as the massive US-led offensive entered its sixth day, while in Mosul, rebels shot police and targeted US installations.
Further south, the holy Shiite city of Najaf joined an ever-growing list of cities -- at least six -- across the country to be put under curfew, while Baghdad's international airport was closed indefinitely to commercial flights.
In Washington, US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who went to war last year to oust Saddam Hussein, said the renewed violence was due to the approach of elections planned for January.
With an estimated 80 percent of Fallujah under occupation following a heavy five-day assault, dubbed Operation Dawn, and savage house-to-house fighting, US marines have been fighting a tenacious enemy that has been hard to pin down.
"The goal right now is to continue until we have broken their back and their spirit to continue to keep the heat on them," marine commander Lieutenant General John Sattler said.
The military estimates that 2,000 to 2,500 rebels were in the city when the assault started Monday. At least 600 have been killed, according to US estimates.
On Wednesday, the military said Fallujah would be under control within 48 hours. On Thursday, that was pushed back to yesterday. By midday, air strikes and cannon fire could be heard as troops targeted a suspected rebel spot.
"It is not going to end tomorrow," said one officer.
The Red Cross and Red Crescent have expressed deep concern about a developing humanitarian crisis among those of Fallujah's 300,000 residents who stayed behind after the fighting started.
The Red Crescent sent a convoy of emergency supplies on yesterday, despite having no permission to enter the battle field, because civilians are dying of starvation and thirst, a spokeswoman said.
The relief agency asked to go to the besieged city, a no-go zone for civilians, but was told it is too dangerous for aid workers to enter, the spokeswoman, Ferdus al-Ibadi, told reporters.
"But the people inside Fallujah are dying and starving, they need us. It is our duty as a humanitarian agency to do our job for these people in these circumstances."
Amid the slow military progress, commanders acknowledged that many insurgents had fled Fallujah before the battle began.
Also see story:
`Mujahidin' remain active on outskirts of Fallujah