US strikes deal to lift Fallujah siege as local police return

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The Independent Online

Iraqi police started to return to Fallujah yesterday after an agreement between US officials and local leaders ended the two-week siege in which at least 1,500 local people were killed or wounded. Many were hit by US Marine snipers.

Iraqi police started to return to Fallujah yesterday after an agreement between US officials and local leaders ended the two-week siege in which at least 1,500 local people were killed or wounded. Many were hit by US Marine snipers.

Nearby, through, the violence continued. In Baghdad, 16 mortars hit the city's largest prison, killing 22 prisoners and wounding 92. All the prisoners were security detainees, meaning they were suspected of operating against the US occupation.

More than 4,400 such people are being held in the prison. The complex at Abu Ghraib, which covers more than one square km, was one of Iraq's biggest prisons under Saddam Hussein's regime and had a fearsome reputation. It lies on the road to Fallujah.

In Fallujah, there appears noe to be some hope of respite, but the wounds of the last two week's seige run deep. A woman from Fallujah in a hospital in Baghdad described how she and her son had been shot. She said: "I left my house with my son and my daughter to look for my other daughter, because I thought her house had been attacked."

She did not want to give her name because, like all the other injured from the city who reach Baghdad, she feared that US troops would arrest her if they found she had bullet wounds.

"American troops were on the roof of the mosque and they hit me and my son," she recalled, propped up with pillows and groaning as a doctor took her blood pressure. "I was hit twice in my chest and once in my hand. My family won't tell me if my son is alive or not."

The woman, a widow aged 51, said one of her sons had been wounded during the Iran-Iraq war. "He lost his tongue and his arm. It was my second son who owned a store and kept us both but now he may be dead."

Because of the civilian loss of life in Fallujah - although witnesses say that many armed insurgents were also hit by snipers - the siege has badly damaged the reputation of the US-led alliance among Iraqis.

The US military-run radio station called yesterday for people in Fallujah to hand over their heavy weapons - rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy machine-guns - to the local police. Some 200 policemen, armed and wearing flak jackets, returned to their jobs.

The US Marines surrounding Fallujah are letting 50 families a day back into the city of 300,000, a third of whose inhabitants had fled.

The month has been the most violent in Iraq since the war. In one incident yesterday a barrage of 18 mortar rounds hit a jail in Baghdad, killing 21 inmates. This was presumably an Iraqi guerrilla attack, but why they attacked a prison was not clear. Nor was it known if the prisoners were held as criminals or as "security detainees".

Since 1 April, some 1,100 Iraqis have been killed, according to hospital reports, the Iraqi police and the US military, although the Americans refuse to keep count of Iraqi civilian casualties. Lt Gen Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of US forces in Iraq, deals with the question of civilian loss of life by assuming that all dead are rebels. He said that at least 1,000 had been killed this month. "They've seen the might of the American military unleashed," General Sanchez said.

At least 99 US soldiers have been killed in the same period in fighting more intense than anything seen since the war.

American troops are trained primarily to protect themselves, and open fire in the face of any perceived threat, or for what seems to Iraqis to be no discernable reason. In an apparent example of this trigger-happy approach, American troops have shot dead two employees of the US-controlled and funded al-Iraqiya television station.

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