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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

U.S. Troops Reinforce After Falluja Air Strike (washingtonpost.com)

U.S. Troops Reinforce After Falluja Air Strike
Tuesday, October 26, 2004; 8:13 AM

By Alistair Lyon

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops cut roads and reinforced positions around Falluja Tuesday after an air strike aimed at Arab militants said to roam the rebel-held city.

Witnesses said U.S. tanks and armored vehicles blocked the main highway to Jordan that runs just north of Falluja, as warplanes criss-crossed the skies. Troops took up positions in empty buildings on the Sunni Muslim city's southern perimeter.

A civilian driver was shot dead near a U.S. checkpoint on the highway, witnesses said. The military said it was checking the report. Only one road leading northwest out of Falluja, 50 km (32 miles) west of Baghdad, was open to civilian traffic.

Many families have already fled Falluja fearing a widely expected U.S. assault designed to bring the city under the interim government's control before elections due in January.

The U.S. military said it had carried out a "precision strike" at 3 a.m. (0000 GMT) on a safe house used by al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's network in Falluja, killing one of his aides. It did not name the man or state his nationality.

Residents said one house was destroyed and three damaged in the strike. Hospital officials reported no casualties.

It was the second time in a few days the military had claimed to have eliminated a Zarqawi associate without identifying him. Saturday it said it had captured a "senior leader" of the group in a raid in southern Falluja.

Interim Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said the government was seeking a political solution in Falluja to "separate the local population from the foreign fighters, the terrorists."

"We are trying to exhaust all political channels and avenues before any final decision is made," he told the BBC.

Zebari said a failed U.S. assault on Falluja in April was "mismanaged," after a lack of consultation with Iraqi leaders.

U.S. Troops Reinforce After Falluja Air Strike (washingtonpost.com)

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