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Thursday, November 18, 2004 - Page updated at 12:19 A.M.

Renewed resistance seen in Fallujah

By Anthony Shadid
The Washington Post

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BAGHDAD, Iraq — A car carrying explosives ripped into a U.S. convoy yesterday in northern Iraq, killing at least 10 civilians, and U.S. troops fought persistent pockets of rebels in Fallujah, a city wrecked by more than a week of fighting.

Black smoke billowed over Fallujah, once home to about 300,000 people, as U.S. forces faced insurgents staging hit-and-run raids on patrols moving through the city's dense warrens. Military commanders had no estimates on the number of insurgents still fighting, but the staccato bursts of gunfire and thunder from tank rounds in the city's center countered Iraqi and U.S. claims over the weekend that fighting there had largely ended.

U.S. commanders say they hold the entire city but acknowledge that rebels have moved back into areas believed to have been secured. While the entrances to the city are blocked, the fighters may be plying old paths into Fallujah or crossing the Euphrates River, whose palm-shrouded banks skirt the city.

In Beiji, an oil-refinery town north of Baghdad, the U.S. military said a car bomb barreled toward a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and detonated, wounding three soldiers. The military had no count of civilian casualties, but news agencies, quoting hospital officials, reported that at least 10 people were killed in the blast and shooting that ensued.

Insurgents in Beiji, a town that has long been unstable, have tried to target the oil refinery and other installations and establish a greater presence in the streets.

In Mosul, a city entered by more than 2,500 U.S. troops Tuesday, four of five bridges spanning the Tigris River remained closed. But residents reported the streets in Iraq's third-largest city were quieter, and fewer rebels were seen.

Since last week, fighting has surged across a swath of Iraq stretching from northern cities such as Mosul and Beiji to a turbulent stretch south of Baghdad. In Latifiyah, Mahmudiyah and other towns where Iraqi police forces have crumbled, residents say Sunni Muslim militants intent on Draconian religious rule have exerted virtual control.

The fighting, which has killed dozens of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of insurgents, has played out against the backdrop of elections to choose an Iraqi government at the end of January. The military is determined to impose at least a modicum of stability, particularly in the restive Sunni regions. Insurgents are no less determined to derail the voting, whose success would probably be perceived as a victory for the U.S. in Iraq.

The insurgents' tactics have varied from more conventional guerrilla warfare, with car bombs as an everyday form of attacks, to sabotage of Iraq's tattered oil pipelines and other infrastructure. The tactics have also included brutal intimidation of Iraqi police, national-guard and army units whose development U.S. officials have made a priority.
The Interior Ministry said yesterday it was investigating a report from police in Karbala that 31 recruits may have been abducted in the Rutba, a town in the west, as they returned from training in neighboring Jordan. The ministry spokesman, Sabah Kadhim, said a group of recruits was due to return by plane this week but may have left overland ahead of time along a road rife with bandits and insurgents. Iraq's border with Jordan, along with the airport in Baghdad, were closed until Monday.

But Kadhim insisted the ministry had no information about any kidnappings and said the police chief in Rutba, contacted last night, had no report of abductions.

In past months, insurgents have kidnapped recruits and their relatives. On Monday, the Interior Ministry reported that assailants seized a wounded policeman from his hospital bed, dismembered him and hung his remains in a city square. In October, gunmen ambushed a group of unarmed army recruits returning home from training. Forty-nine of them were killed execution-style, with gunshots to the back of the head.

Along a street in Baghdad, next to banners of the most feared group, Monotheism and Jihad, insurgents have strung up uniforms of Iraqi National Guard members as a warning.

Monotheism and Jihad was based in Fallujah, where the fighting flared again yesterday, with a near constant barrage of mortar and rifle fire. In a neighborhood in the eastern part, snipers penetrated a building held by Marines.

Just outside the city, U.S. warplanes bombed a suspected hide-out after insurgents tried to attack a passing convoy.

Residents said fighters were leaving Fallujah from its southern outskirts, some of them swimming across the Euphrates with their weapons.

Marines killed seven insurgents who officers said had sneaked back into the city by swimming the Euphrates River.

One guerrilla, who identified himself as Abu Salman, 32, said rebels tried to divert U.S. attention by unleashing the attacks in the southern part of the city to allow others to escape.

"Our plan succeeded. We were able to allow a large number of mujahedeen to leave with their weapons," he said, employing the Islamic term for fighters.

The corpses of slain fighters could still be seen in the streets, and more than 100 rebels, dozens of them Arab fighters from outside Iraq, were buried in a new graveyard.

Residents said a statement purportedly from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who leads Monotheism and Jihad, was circulated among those still fighting, urging them to take their fight to Baghdad and target the Iraqi police, army and foreigners there.

The Washington Post staff writer Jackie Spinner in Fallujah and special correspondents Naseer Nouri and Bassam Sabti in Baghdad contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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