U.S. Forces Battle Militants in Fallujah, Najaf
Witnesses told the Reuters news service they heard at least ten explosions per minute during the 30 minutes of fighting. Live television footage showed two large fires about 150 yards apart, apparently in the northern Jolan district, a poor neighborhood where Sunni insurgents are said to be concentrated.
Earlier in the day, U.S. aircraft dropped white leaflets over the city west of Baghdad, calling on insurgents to surrender, according to the Associated Press.
“Surrender, you are surrounded,” the leaflets said. “If you are a terrorist, beware, because your last day was yesterday. In order to spare your life end your actions and surrender to coalition forces now. We are coming to arrest you.”
U.S. forces targeted the same area of Fallujah on Monday. One soldier and eight insurgents were reported killed in that fighting.
In the south, coalition forces killed 64 militiamen from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army near the town of Najaf, U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told a news conference. There were no reports of American casualties.
The clash occurred after insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades at an M-1 tank patrolling the eastern side of the Euphrates River near Kufa, said Kimmitt, The New York Times reported. American forces called in attack helicopters to supplement ground troops, killing the 57 insurgents.
In an earlier fight near the same location, seven rebels were killed after they ambushed a patrol with small-arms fire, Kimmitt said.
U.S. troops are taking the place of departing Spanish forces at bases between Kufa and Najaf. Spanish officials said all their 1,300 troops would leave Iraq by May 27.
In Baghdad, a U.S. soldier was killed in an ambush near the tense neighborhood of Sadr City. The number of U.S. soldiers killed in action since the war began March 19, 2003 totals 518, according to the Department of Defense.
The events occurred the same day as U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi delivered recommendations to the U.N. Security Council on how the transfer of power to an Iraqi interim government should be handled.
Brahimi said despite the violence in the war-torn country, an interim government could be set up by the end of May, a month earlier than the U.S.-led occupation cedes power on June 30, Reuters reported.
“Though it will certainly not be easy, we do believe that it shall be possible to identify by the end of May a group of people respected and acceptable to Iraqis across the country, to form this caretaker government,” he said.
The members of the caretaker government, including the interim president, vice presidents and prime minister, should not run for office in the January 2005 elections to avoid the appearance of partisanship, said Brahimi.
In order to facilitate communication among Iraqis, the envoy suggested creating a national conference of at least 1,000 members to provide advice to the government and receive ministers’ reports.
Also Tuesday, the Senate began confirmation hearings on the selection of John Negroponte to become the first U.S. ambassador in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
Negroponte was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and, if confirmed, will replace civilian administrator Paul Bremer as the top U.S. official in Iraq after the June 30 handover.
Senators reportedly are pushing for his quick approval.