First Published: 2004-04-28

Fierce clashes in Fallujah

US airstrikes with heavily armed AC-130 aeroplane in Fallujah hit vehicle, building used by insurgents.


Middle East Online

By Patrick Moser - CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq

Air support to quell insurgency

Overnight US airstrikes in Fallujah hit a vehicle and a building used by insurgents, a spokesman said Wednesday at the main US Marine base just outside the flashpoint Iraqi city.

"Marines took rocket-propelled grenade and direct fire and called air support to engage a vehicle transporting weapons and personnel," said US Marine Major T.V. Johnson, a spokesman for the US Marines at Camp Fallujah.

He said a heavily armed AC-130 aeroplane "hit the target ... the anti-Iraqi forces fled to a nearby building. The aircraft shot at the building."

Johnson said that in both cases, in addition to the blasts from the airstrikes, there were also "massive secondary explosions."

He said this suggested large quantities of ammunition were stashed both in the vehicle and the building.

He said the AC-130 Specter gunship, which is notably armed with 105 mm. Howitzer guns, is built for precision targeting. "There is no doubt it hit the targets," he said.

The airstrikes were conducted shortly after the US Marines came under fire at 10:00 p.m. (1400 GMT) Tuesday, Johnson said.

AC-130 gunships have previously bombarded rebel positions during the course of more than two weeks of negotiations between the Americans and Iraqis over the siege of Fallujah.

Military officials did not give the exact position of the latest airstrikes but a pool correspondent embedded at a marine position in the city said the fighting occurred in the Jolan neighborhood, considered the stronghold of the insurgents in the Sunni Muslim bastion.

Johnson said a message broadcast from a Fallujah mosque urged residents to take up arms against the occupation forces, despite a shaky truce between the two sides.

The ceasefire agreed earlier this month was extended on Sunday, and officials of the US-led coalition said they planned to stage joint patrols of the city together with local police.

The patrols initially were scheduled to start on Tuesday, but US overseer in Iraq Paul Bremer said on Iraqi television they would start Thursday.

Marine officers on the ground said the decision was based on sensitivity for the birthday of ousted leader Saddam Hussein's, which falls on Wednesday. They also said that there were no plans to patrol Jolan, a densely-packed residential area that is considered too much of a danger zone.

Camp Fallujah also came under mortar attack during the night though no casualties were reported.

The base has often come under fire in the past, but US marines said Tuesday night's mortar attack was the first in about two weeks.

The coalition blames the fighting on "anti-Iraqi forces" they say comprise foreign fighters with possible al-Qaeda connections and former members of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime who are disgruntled at losing their privileges.

The US marines have laid siege to Fallujah since April 5 following the murders of four US civilian contractors in the Sunni Muslim city, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad.


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