Fierce battles between insurgents and US and Iraqi forces killed at least nine people yesterday in Baqubah -- the latest in a wave of clashes that has swept Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland even as American forces move against the last remaining pockets of resistance in Fallujah.
A Red Cross spokesman said that a relief convoy of ambulances and supplies trying to enter Fallujah was turned back by Iraqi authorities or US Marines yesterday. The Red Crescent and Red Cross have been unable to gain access to people inside Fallujah during more than a week of fighting.
US officials said the trouble in Baqubah, started when insurgents attacked 1st Infantry Division soldiers with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire near a traffic circle and police station.
During the fighting, US troops started getting fire from a mosque, the US military said. Iraqi security stormed the mosque and found rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and other weapons and ammunition, the statement said.
The fighting took place in Baqubah and neighboring town of Buhriz, about 55km northeast of Baghdad. US aircraft dropped two 225kg bombs on a militant position.
Four 1st Infantry Division soldiers were wounded, although two of them returned to duty, the military said. Nine Iraqis, including one attacker, a policeman and seven civilians, were killed and 11 Iraqis were injured in the fighting, according to Mohammed Zayad of the Baqubah hospital.
The week-old offensive in Fallujah has left at least 38 American troops and six Iraqi soldiers dead. The number of US troops wounded is now 275, though more than 60 have returned to duty. US officials estimated more than 1,200 insurgents have been killed.
US forces resumed heavy airstrikes and artillery fire yesterday, with warplanes making between 20 to 30 bombing sorties in Fallujah and surrounding areas. US ground forces were trying to corner the remaining resistance in the city.
US forces had attacked a bunker complex on Sunday in the city's south where they discovered a network of steel-reinforced tunnels and underground bunkers. The tunnels connected a ring of facilities filled with weapons, an anti-aircraft artillery gun, bunk beds and a truck, according to a statement from the US military.
Civilians seeking medical care were told through loudspeakers and leaflets to contact US troops. In Geneva, the Baghdad spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said yesterday that an Iraqi Red Crescent convoy of four ambulances and four trucks carrying supplies reached Fallujah General Hospital on the city's outskirts, but was unable to go further.
The Iraqi Red Crescent said US forces and the Iraqi government told the convoy to leave the area.