U.S. softens up Faluja for final assault

Friday, November 5, 2004

BAGHDAD The U.S. military has been eroding insurgency assets ahead of what could be a weekend assault on the Iraqi Sunni city of Faluja.

The U.S. military has been pounding suspected insurgency positions with increasingly heavy air attacks over the last two days. The air attacks have served to drive out thousands of residents from Faluja and isolate the insurgents loyal to Saddam Hussein and Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi.

Officials said the U.S. military was waiting for an order from Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Alawi for a ground invasion of Faluja. They said Alawi could order the operation when he returns from Europe on Nov. 6.

On Thursday, U.S. AC-130s and main battle tanks struck insurgency positions on the edges of Faluja, Middle East Newsline reported. The operations were conducted in support of the Marine Expeditionary Corps, expected to launch a ground assault on the city over the next few days.

"U.S. Air Force aircraft struck a preplanned target with precision weapons, striking known anti-Iraqi barricaded fighting positions," a military statement said.

The statement said the air raids destroyed several insurgency positions in the southeast and northeast of Faluja. U.S. forces were also said to have recovered and destroyed a large cache of rockets, artillery shells and mortars.

Over the last two weeks, U.S. ground forces have laid siege to Faluja while helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft targeted Al Zarqawi positions throughout the city. Officials said that up to 6,000 insurgents were believed to be holed up in Faluja.

On Oct. 31, Alawi warned that Faluja faces a massive military assault unless the insurgents surrendered. Alawi was said to have already established an administration to operate Faluja.

"The Iraqi interim government is establishing a government to take over Faluja," Maj. Jim West, a Marine intelligence planner, told a briefing on Thursday. "It's an Iraqi government."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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