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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Reuters | Latest Financial News MARINES CONTINUED COVERAGE

The U.S. military said the marines were killed in the restive western province of Anbar, which includes Falluja and Ramadi, but gave no details. Nine marines were also wounded.

Witnesses said earlier they had seen three U.S. vehicles burning on a road east of Falluja, in the same province. It was not clear if that was where the marine casualties occurred.

The deaths bring to 858 the number of U.S. troops killed in combat. The total number of U.S. troop deaths, including accidents and other causes, is now almost 1,120.

The decapitated body of an Asian man shown in a video shot in Baghdad appears to be that of missing Japanese backpacker Shosei Koda, Reuters witnesses who viewed the video said.

The video showed the severed head of a Japanese-looking man which resembled photographs of Koda. Iraq's Interior Ministry said it could be that of the kidnapped Japanese.

U.S. marine commanders said on Friday they were preparing for a major assault on Falluja and Ramadi.

The aim is to crush guerrillas and root out militants led by al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to enable Iraq's interim government to hold national elections in January.

At least a dozen air strikes hit south-eastern Falluja, witnesses said. U.S. marine spokesman Lieutenant Lyle Gilbert said marines on the edge of Falluja had come under mortar fire from insurgents and called in artillery support.

He said it was the "most consistent and drawn out artillery barrage in recent days", but was not the start of the offensive.


Marine commanders say they face a volatile mix of up to 2,000 Iraqi and foreign fighters entrenched in the city. Some are thought to be former army officers loyal to Saddam Hussein, others Islamist militants led by Zarqawi, a Jordanian.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi met a group of Sunni clerics in a last-ditch appeal for a peaceful solution. The clerics, too frightened to be named publicly, said they would respond in "a few" days, a statement from Allawi's office said.

Zarqawi, America's top enemy in Iraq and with a $25 million (13.6 million pound) price on his head, has claimed some of the bloodiest violence in the country and the beheadings of foreign hostages.

In Baghdad, the Interior Ministry said 19 people were also wounded in the blast outside the Al Arabiya office in an up-market neighbourhood. Television footage showed doctors stitching the bloodied face of one woman.

The majority Saudi-owned satellite channel has often been attacked on Web sites used by Islamist militant groups for its perceived pro-Western stance in the Arab world. A recent posting purportedly by Zarqawi's group also threatened Al Arabiya.

A little-known Iraqi group said it carried out the attack.

"Thank God, the building of the Arabic-speaking Americanised spy journalists was destroyed," said the 1920 Battalions, in a statement on Web sites used by Iraqi militants.

Al Arabiya later said the group had denied it was responsible. It gave no details and the Web statement could not be independently authenticated.

The interim government and its U.S. backers are battling to restore peace to the country so Iraqis can elect a national assembly in January to draft a new constitution.

But some rebels fighting to drive out U.S.-led forces oppose the polls. The election commission has received death threats signed by militants using the old name of Zarqawi's group.

Typewritten letters in the name of the Tawhid wal Jihad (One God and Holy War) Assassinations Squad warned members of the commission would be killed, along with their families, if they stayed at their posts, spokesman Farid Ayar said.

Iraqi-Polish hostage Teresa Borcz Khalifa appealed to her government on a video aired on Saturday, saying her life depended on the withdrawal of Polish forces from Iraq as demanded by her Iraqi captors.

"I am asking for help ... from Poland and the Polish people and whoever can help me," Al Jazeera television quoted her as saying in the video which showed her sitting under the black banner the militant Islamic group, Abu Bakr al-Seddiq Salafist Brigades, that kidnapped her last week.

At least 25 foreigners from a dozen countries are thought to be in the hands of kidnappers trying to drive U.S.-led forces and foreign workers from Iraq. Scores of foreigners have been abducted since April. Many have been freed but more than 35 have been killed, several of them beheaded.
Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage

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