US Troops Stretched To
Limit As Insurgents
Fight Back

By Robin Gedye
Foreign Affairs Writer
The Telegraph - UK
Insurgent attacks across Iraq stretched American forces to their limits yesterday when rebels appeared to be in control of at least two cities, and the operation in Fallujah entered its most dangerous phase.
The holy city of Najaf became the seventh city to be placed under a night-time curfew with insurgents across the Sunni Triangle, the country's most volatile region, united in their determination to use the battle for Fallujah as a rallying call to terror.
Despite air strikes on Iraq's main northern city, Mosul, on Thursday night and claims by US forces that the city was calm, masked gunmen openly controlled its streets yesterday with eyewitnesses reporting that neither police nor US forces were to be seen.
Insurgents remained in charge of at least one of the nine police stations which they had attacked earlier while some police were reported to have thrown off their uniforms to join the terrorists. A contingent of US troops was detached from guarding the perimeter of Fallujah, where the American toll rose to at least 22 dead yesterday since the operation began, and moved to Mosul in an attempt to re-impose order.
The city of Ramadi, 35 miles west of Fallujah, also appeared under the control of rebels who roamed the streets carrying automatic weapons and rocket launchers.
Other towns under curfew amid growing unrest included Baghdad, Tikrit, Samarra and Baquba.
An audio tape reportedly made by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has boasted of responsibility for some of the bloodiest of hostage executions, reassured the "heroes of Islam in Fallujah" that "God's victory is on the horizon".
A US Black Hawk helicopter was shot down north of Baghdad and three crew members were wounded.
US military spokesmen denied that they had lost control of security in any Iraqi cities although they admitted that while the battle for Fallujah remained the immediate priority it allowed insurgents to launch brief and intense assaults elsewhere.
Troops in Fallujah entered the most difficult phase of their operation last night as they engaged rebels in the southern corner of the city where al-Zarqawi had his headquarters before fleeing the city ahead of the US attack.
Several hundred fighters, gradually forced south during the three-day operation, were said to be trapped against the Euphrates on the west and a double cordon of US forces along Fallujah's southern perimeter as soldiers advancing through the city's alleys gradually squeezed them into an ever-smaller circle.
Some of the toughest street fighting encountered so far erupted during the day as rebels re-emerged in areas already secured by US marines in the north of the city.
Gunmen resumed positions on the roofs of mosques which had earlier been cleared, effectively drawing troops away from the main advance southwards.
"It's extremely dangerous right now because the insurgents have nowhere to go. They are just sitting in houses waiting for us to come in. I'm supposed to shoot into the houses before our troops go in," said Marine Cpl Will Porter.
"Some battalions are pushing through the city and others are clearing it. Battalions like ours are coming from behind, going house-to-house killing guys," said a US marine, Lt Michael Prato.
As the fighters trapped in the city become increasingly desperate, there is evidence that they are killing colleagues to prevent them surrendering.
"Clearly they have been killing some of their own," said Capt Drew McNulty, whose company had found a rebel body with its feet hacked off, a teenager with a bullet in his chest and at least five bodies that were not the victims of US weaponry.
Journalists with the troops speak of a city that is gradually being devastated. Scarcely a single house does not bear some form of weapons scar and many have been rendered uninhabitable.
Tactics handed down from years of urban warfare in Israel mean that troops sometimes search rows of buildings by punching holes through walls with high velocity bullets rather than moving from house to house through doors, thus reducing the risk of booby traps and increasing the element of surprise.
The consequences are that homes are being badly damaged on a routine basis.
One army unit in Fallujah reported clearing an industrial section of the city where it found almost every building wired to explode, bomb factories, anti-tank mines and hundreds of weapons lying around.
The driver of two French hostages kidnapped on Aug 20 during a trip to Najaf was discovered in handcuffs in the basement of a house, but there was no sign of journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.
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