- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq — U.S. forces backed by an air and artillery barrage began a major offensive yesterday into the southern half of Fallujah, trying to choke Sunni fighters in a shrinking cordon. The military estimated that 600 insurgents have been killed in the offensive but said success in the city won’t break Iraq’s insurgency.

The military said 18 Americans have been killed and 178 wounded in the Fallujah campaign, now in its fourth day. In addition, five allied Iraqi soldiers were killed and 34 wounded. Staff at the main U.S. military hospital in Europe, at Landstuhl, Germany, were bringing in new beds to deal with a stream of wounded.

In northern Iraq, violence escalated dramatically in Mosul, the country’s third-biggest city, amid a campaign of stepped-up attacks by guerrillas aimed at diverting U.S.-Iraqi forces from Fallujah.

Gunmen in Mosul attacked and overwhelmed police stations and battled U.S. and Iraqi troops around bridges across the Tigris River, the military said.

In Baghdad, a car bomb ripped through a crowded commercial street, killing 17 persons, police said — the second deadly car bomb in the capital in as many days. People pulled bodies and bloodied survivors from the rubble of a dozen mangled vehicles, which burned after the blast went off on Saadoun Street, moments after a U.S. patrol passed.

Since Monday, U.S. and Iraqi troops have been fighting their way through the northern half of Fallujah, reaching the east-west highway that bisects the city and battling pockets of fighters trapped in the north while other insurgents fell back into the south.

After sunset yesterday, U.S. soldiers and Marines began their main assault across the central highway into Fallujah’s southern half after air and artillery barrages pummeled the sector throughout the day, the military said.

Sunni fighters in the sector appeared to be trying desperately to break open an escape route through the U.S.-Iraqi cordon closing off Fallujah’s southern edge, commanders said.

Insurgent mortar fire and attacks have focused on bridges and roads out of the city more than on U.S. troops descending from the north, they said.

Commanders say that since the offensive began, their seal around the city is tight and that fighters still inside have little chance of escaping. About 15,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are involved in the cordon and the assault inside the city.

Military officials cautioned that the figure of 600 insurgents killed in the city was only a rough estimate.

Commanders said before the offensive that 1,200 to 3,000 fighters were thought to be holed up in the city. But the speed of the U.S. advance has led some officers on the ground to conclude that many guerrillas abandoned the city before the attack so they could fight elsewhere.

An Iraqi journalist still in Fallujah reported clashes around a market in a western district. Elsewhere, he saw burned U.S. vehicles and bodies in the street. He said two men trying to move a corpse were shot down by a sniper.

Two of the three small clinics in the city have been bombed, and in one case, medical staff and patients killed, he said. A U.S. tank was positioned near the third clinic.

“People are afraid of even looking out the window because of snipers,” he said, asking that he not be named for his own safety. “The Americans are shooting anything that moves.”

The number of civilian casualties in the city is not known. Most of the city’s 200,000 to 300,000 residents are thought to have fled before the offensive. Those remaining have endured days without electricity, frequent barrages and dwindling food supplies.

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