Civilians die in US ground and air attack on bases in Fallujah

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The Independent Online

US aircraft, tanks and artillery pounded the resistance stronghold of Fallujah yesterday, killing at least eight people and wounding 15, while rebels struck back in Baghdad by killing six police recruits.

US aircraft, tanks and artillery pounded the resistance stronghold of Fallujah yesterday, killing at least eight people and wounding 15, while rebels struck back in Baghdad by killing six police recruits.

The US said that it is hitting the strongholds of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Islamic militant, with pinpoint accuracy, but doctors at the local hospital in Fallujah said at least seven civilians were killed and 13 wounded, including women and children.

The US-appointed Iraqi interim government, which supports the air strikes, last week banned the Ministry of Health in Baghdad from announcing figures for civilian casualties. Television pictures showed a boy and later a woman being rescued from the rubble.

"There were no innocent civilians reported in the immediate area at the time of strike," said a statement from the US military. "Multinational forces took multiple measures to minimise collateral damage and civilian casualties." During the night-time assault, with explosions lighting the sky, prayers were chanted defiantly through loudspeakers from the mosques in Fallujah.

Since the US lost control of much of the Sunni heartlands in April, it has developed a policy of keeping up pressure on rebels by sustained air attack. US military commanders are saying that they will retake Fallujah, but the White House probably does not want to launch an all-out assault until after the election in November because it might refocus voters' attention on Iraq.

Insurgents are fighting back in other parts of Anbar province, covering much of western Iraq and including the mid-Euphrates cities of Fallujah and Ramadi. Four marines were killed in three separate incidents on Friday. Another soldier was killed by a bomb yesterday, bringing to 1,042 the total number of US military killed since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. A further 7,000 have been wounded.

In western Baghdad gunmen opened fire and threw grenades into a van, killing six new recruits to the national guard, which is a frequent target of attack. The young men had just left a recruiting centre where they had signed up in the Al-Jamayah neighbourhood. People in Baghdad wonder why recruitment for the police and national guard doesn't take place in camps on the outskirts of the city where recruits would be safe from gunmen and suicide bombers who routinely slaughter them.

In the same part of the city an Iraqi intelligence officer was assassinated and a warning spray-painted on his car. Five mortar shells landed on the giant Oil Ministry in east Baghdad.

The claim by the Prime Minister Iyad Allawi that 14 or 15 Iraq provinces out of 18 are peaceful has been greeted with astonishment by Iraqis who see it as wholly addressed to a US audience to help President Bush win reelection. The violence outside Baghdad goes increasingly unreported because it is too dangerous for journalists to go there because of the danger of being killed or kidnapped.

The kidnapping of two French journalists, who have still not been freed, in August is leading to an exodus of the French media. The US networks are very much penned inside their offices or the hotels where they live.

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