Friday, November 26, 2004

2,000 dead in Fallujah as U.S.-led forces sweep area

US-led forces rounded up scores of suspected rebels in Iraq's "triangle of death" on Thursday as officials said the death toll from the this month's massive operation in Fallujah was more than 2,000.
Iraqi soldiers combing the remains of the devastated city of Fallujah also found a suspected chemical bomb factory, along with pamphlets on making toxic substances such as anthrax, a top Iraqi official said.
The largest Sunni party threatened to boycott the Jan. 30 vote, dealing a blow to hopes for a broad national turnout that would legitimize the new assembly.
The Iraqi Islamist Party complained the violence in Sunni areas made voting impractical.
The head of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the biggest Sunni political group, joined threats of a Sunni boycott of the election, demanding the ballot should be postponed for six months. "We may withdraw," Mohsen Abdel-Hamid told Reuters.
Meanwhile, however, plans continued for the balloting.
Iraq's electoral commission extended until next Thursday the deadline for registering political parties in the insurgent-riddled provinces of Salaheddin, Anbar and Mosul.
Rebels meanwhile continued to wage deadly attacks, as a group headed by Iraq's most-wanted man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, claimed Wednesday's murder in Baghdad of a U.S. State Department official.
On the ground, two people were killed in car bomb attacks in Samarra, and a key oil pipeline was reportedly attacked.
With time running out to quell rebellion among Iraq's Sunni minority before the election in January, a close aide of Zarqawi was captured in the northern city of Mosul.
In a bid to wipe out insurgents ahead of January's elections, an Iraqi SWAT team, US marines and soldiers from Britain's Black Watch regiment descended on a number of targets in the "triangle of death," southwest of Baghdad, in a series of early morning swoops.
Those detained in Thursday's raids brought to 116 the number of suspected insurgents captured since Operation Plymouth Rock, which involves 5,000 troops and kicked off on Tuesday, the army said.

The latest swoop was the third major such operation this month after US-led assaults on Fallujah west of Baghdad and Mosul, both Sunni strongholds.
Some 2,080 people were killed and 1,600 detained in the US-Iraqi offensive on Fallujah, the largest military operation in Iraq since last year's invasion, Daoud said.
US forces said they discovered a huge cache of weapons in a mosque.
National guardsmen also found a "chemical materials laboratory that was used to make explosives and toxic substances," Daoud told reporters, adding that there were also pamphlets showing how to make explosives and toxic substances, including anthrax.
But marine Major Jim West said Wednesday that while his troops had found chemical labs "there is no indication right now they were being used to produce chemical weapons."
The US military said the largest weapons cache in Fallujah - including grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, rockets and bomb-making materials - was found in a mosque where the alleged spiritual leader of the insurgents preached.
Humanitarian aid groups had struggled to obtain access to the city, where sporadic violence is still reported. But the Iraqi Red Crescent was able for the first time on Thursday to deliver aid to families in Fallujah.
Meanwhile, Zarqawi's group claimed on an Islamist Web site the murder of State Department official James Mollen, who was shot dead on Wednesday in Baghdad.
Deadly unrest continued elsewhere, with two people killed and 14 wounded in two car bombings, one of them a suicide attack, in Samarra, officials said.
Further north, a key pipeline was damaged in a bomb attack that cut off the oil flow to a major refinery that supplies power stations serving large swathes of northern and central Iraq, an official at the refinery said.
The national guard denied any attack had taken place.
In the far south of Iraq, police in Basra said they had arrested five foreign fighters - two Saudis, two Tunisians and a Libyan - who had escaped the fighting in Fallujah. - Agencies

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