The securing of Fallujah, despite continued pockets of fighting, came as fighting intensified in other parts of the war-torn country.
“Iraqi forces and Multi-National Force-Iraq have wrested most of Fallujah from insurgent control, but operations are not over,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement Monday. “Early Nov. 15, combined forces continue to clear buildings and mosques of weapons and explosives stockpiled by insurgents and are beginning to restore stability and order for Fallujah’s law-abiding citizens.”
On Sunday, U.S. Marine officials declared the besieged city “liberated”, even as soldiers continued to search the city for remaining weapons and fighters.
“What you’re seeing now are some of the hardliners, they seem to be better equipped than some of the earlier ones, we’ve seen flak jackets on some of them,” Major General Richard Natonski told the BBC. “But we’re more determined and we’re going to wipe them out.”
The street-to-street fighting had reportedly been intense as American-led multinational force swept through large swaths of the city. During the clashes, 38 American and six Iraqi soldiers have been killed. U.S. officials put the death toll among insurgents at approximately 1,200.
American military officials said rebuilding the shattered city will take a major commitment from the U.S. and Iraqi governments. Military officials also stressed the need to continue operations against the insurgents to prevent a regrouping in Fallujah or elsewhere.
“Our experience is that, after battles in which they lose many fighters, the insurgents require some days to gather, treat their wounded and try to figure out what to do next,” Brig. Gen. Carter Ham, the head of military operations in northern Iraq, told The New York Times Sunday. “Our job is to work to not let them rest and to not allow them time to reset.”
U.S. forces continued to carefully search the city for remaining insurgents and dozens of hidden weapons caches. During these sweeps, they have met occasional, intense opposition from the few remaining fighters.
During one of these searches, forces also discovered the body of a mutilated western woman. Only two female westerners — Margaret Hassan director of CARE international in Iraq, and Teresa Borcz Khalifa, a Polish-born longtime resident of Iraq — were known held by rebels. Officials were not releasing the identity of the victim as of mid-day Monday.
While U.S. officials hoped the assault on Fallujah was winding down, the battle for control of Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul, entered its fifth day.
Insurgents have repeatedly overrun police stations throughout the city, seizing weapons and battling with U.S. and Iraqi National Guard forces for hours.
“I expect the next few days will bring some hard fighting,” Ham said in an email. “The situation in Mosul is tense, but certainly not desperate.”
The governor of the region, who dismissed the police chief last week, further expressed frustration with local security forces, calling in Kurdish militiamen to help secure the northern city of two million.
Fighting also erupted in the town of Baqouba, 40 miles north of Baghdad, where insurgents again targeted police stations, and took positions on city rooftops.
Iraqi National Guard and U.S. forces launched swift counterattacks. American warplanes dropped at least two 500-pound bombs on insurgent positions and ground forces engaged rebels in intense gunbattles.
By late Monday, officials said some 20 insurgents had been killed and four Americans wounded in the fighting, but that rebels had lost control of the buildings they had seized.
“The situation in the city is normal now,” Abdullah Jibouri, governor of Diyala province, told Reuters by telephone. “The Iraqi National Guard and police are in control.”