U.S. Marines continue to surround Fallujah, and insurgents staged no major attacks during daylight hours Monday, said Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of American ground forces in Iraq.
At the request of the Iraqi Governing Council, Marines declared a unilateral cease-fire and held discussions with some of the insurgents in hotbed of violence west of Baghdad, Sanchez said in a two-way videoconference with to reporters at the Pentagon.
Sanchez emphasized that those talks are “just initial discussions.” Actual negotiations will not begin “until we achieve some confidence building and a period of stability,” he added.
To the south, American and coalition forces regained control of Kut and Nasiriyah from a militia led by anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, Sanchez said.
The Associated Press also reported that one of al-Sadr’s representatives told its reporter Monday that the cleric had pulled his militiamen out of police stations and government facilities in Najaf, partially meeting a U.S. demand for ending the standoff.
However, Sanchez described Najaf and parts of Karbala as still being under the control of al-Sadr’s supporters. Coalition forces have encircled those cities and are prepared to move against al-Sadr’s militia at some point, he said.
The coalition’s mission, Sanchez added, is to kill or capture al-Sadr.
Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of all U.S. forces in Iraq admitted that some Iraqi police and security forces had refused to fight and a few even joined al-Sadr’s militia in southern Iraq.
“That was a disappointment to us,” Abizaid said.
Advisers from U.S. special operations forces units will join some Iraqi security units to try to improve the Iraqi’s training and command structure, Abizaid told reporters.
The increasing demands on U.S. troops will mean that some troops will have to stay in Iraq for longer than anticipated, Abizaid added.
The Army’s 1st Armored Division had been scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of next month but some units have been sent to regain control of the southern city of Kut, Abizaid explained. He declined comment on how long those troops would continue to serve in Iraq.
The widespread fighting in April made it the bloodiest month since the fall of Baghdad a year ago.
Rafa Hayad al-Issawi, director of Fallujah’s main hospital, told wire services he believed more than 600 Iraqis, mainly civilians, had been killed there.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told a news conference that U.S.-led forces had lost about 70 soldiers and that “casualty figures we have received from the enemy are somewhere about 10 times that amount.”
That coalition death toll compares with 89 troops killed in action in the three-week war that toppled Saddam Hussein. At least 477 U.S. troops have died in combat since the war began in March last year.