Violence erupts across Iraq and aid agencies warn of disaster as US declares battle of Fallujah is over

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The Independent Online

The United States and Iraq's interim government claimed yesterday that the battle for Fallujah was over, with 1,000 insurgents killed and the rebel stronghold effectively pacified after six days of fighting.

The United States and Iraq's interim government claimed yesterday that the battle for Fallujah was over, with 1,000 insurgents killed and the rebel stronghold effectively pacified after six days of fighting.

But even as the victory was being declared, wide-spread violence erupted throughout the rest of the country, with parts of Mosul passing into the hands of insurgents, forcing the American military to detach and rush part of its Fallujah force to the northern city. There was also street fighting in Baghdad, where mortar rounds were fired at the Green Zone, the heavily barricaded heart of US power in Iraq, and heavy fighting in the town of Yusufiyah, south of the capital.

Aid agencies warned of a humanitarian disaster in Fallujah and neighbouring areas, with outbreaks of typhoid and other diseases. Eight groups said in a joint letter that there were now 200,000 refugees who have fled the fighting and are without food, water or shelter. People leaving the city described rotting bodies piling up on the streets.

"The people inside Fallujah are dying and starving. They need us," said Red Crescent spokeswoman Fardous al-Ubaidi. "The situation is catastrophic. It is our duty as a humanitarian agency to do our job for these people in these circumstances." A convoy of four trucks carrying food and medicine finally reached Fallujah city centre yesterday after prolonged negotiations with US troops. The Iraqi Health Minister, Ala'din Alwan, said the government had begun transferring "significant numbers" of injured to hospitals in Baghdad, but could not say how many.

In Baghdad, Qassem Daoud, the Iraq interim government's security adviser, said: "Operation Fajr [Dawn] has been achieved and only the malignant pockets remain that we are dealing with through a clean-up operation. The mission is accomplished and there only remains these few pockets, which are being cleaned up. The number of killed has risen to more than 1,000 and we have arrested more than 200 so far."

In continuing fighting yesterday, two city mosques were hit by air strikes after troops reported sniper fire from inside. Two US Marines were killed by a home-made bomb and a US warplane dropped a 225kg bomb to destroy what the military called an insurgent tunnel network.

The US military insisted that at least 100 of those killed were "foreign fighters". However, the authorities said afterwards that only 14 of the prisoners taken were foreign, and 10 of them were Iranians. Mr Daoud also said that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was not in Fallujah. Iyad Allawi, Iraq's US-appointed interim prime minister, had made the handing over of Zarqawi by the people of Fallujah a pre-condition to avoid an attack.

The US military said up to 2,000 insurgents are attempting to escape from Fallujah and the likely route would be south of the city, through the area where the Black Watch battle group is based. It emerged yesterday that their forward base is at al-Qaqa'a military industrial complex, looted last year after US soldiers failed to secure it. Weapons from al-Qaqa'a have been used, it is believed, in the attacks on the Black Watch.

In Mosul, masked gunmen took over banks and government buildings without interference from either US forces or Iraqi government troops. US warplanes had bombed the city 24 hours earlier and the police chief had been sacked after being accused of colluding with rebels. But there were reports of policemen changing into civilian clothes and joining the insurgents. Duriad Kashmoula, the governor of Mosul, blamed the uprising on "the betrayal of some police members". In other districts, vigilantes set up roadblocks and patrolled neighbourhoods. The US military said the insurgents in Mosul were local people, not fighters coming from Fallujah.

In Baghdad insurgents shot down a helicopter, injuring three. One soldier died and three other people were injured in an ambush. The government announced that the international airport would remain closed indefinitely to civilian traffic.

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