Two days later the U.S. military said it had captured a top leader of Tawhid and Jihad along with five other suspected militia members, according to Reuters. On October 26 the military also claimed to have killed a top leader of the group in an air strike that destroyed four homes. Another 17 individuals accused of leading or being members of such militias were reportedly captured in outlying areas of the city in predawn raids.
Tawhid and Jihad has taken responsibility for several kidnappings and beheadings of hostages, and bombings against civilian and other targets in Iraq. Many of those killed in such bombings have been Iraqis attempting to join the National Guard and police at recruiting stations, along with civilian bystanders. The group also took credit for the recent execution-style killing of 50 newly trained unarmed Iraqi soldiers on their way home on leave after completing training, said CBS News. The group is led by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
U.S. warplanes and tanks have kept up a bombardment of Fallujah as the Allawi government prepares for a major ground offensive. According to Reuters, smoke could be seen rising from the Shuhada area of the city, an alleged stronghold of militias. In one bombing attack, a family of six, among them four children, were reportedly killed when their home was hit. The U.S. military denied killing the family, saying that its warplanes struck safe houses used by Tahwid and Jihad.
U.S. military vehicles cut off a northwestern entrance to the city and used loudspeakers to warn residents to turn over militia members or the night is near. The Allawi regime has demanded that al-Zarqawi be handed over to its forces. The lead negotiator between the interim government and the militias in meetings aimed to avoid a full-scale assault on the city said October 26 that the Allawi administration has broken off the talks. But the Iraqi defense ministry denied that negotiations had ended, according to al-Jazeera TV.
Fallujah lies in the heart of the Sunni Triangle, an area of central Iraq where the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein has had a strong base. It is now a center of the militias opposing the U.S.-led occupation and the interim regime installed by Washington. Fierce battles took place in Fallujah in March and April when U.S. forces laid siege to the city following the deaths of four military contractors. Their burned and charred remains were strung from a bridge over the Euphrates river as many residents cheered. U.S. Marines were ordered to prepare an assault on the city ostensibly to capture those responsible.
The siege ended on April 30 with the announcement that the occupation authority had negotiated an agreement to replace the Marines by establishing a Fallujah Brigade headed by former Iraqi army officers. The brigade never engaged the militias and was dissolved in September.
Washington continues to draw lessons and make tactical adjustments from that experience as with its efforts to wipe out the Mahdi militia of Muqtada al-Sadr based in Najaf and Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad. Newly U.S.-trained Iraqi National Guard and Special Forces troops joined U.S. Marines in routing the Mahdi militia from Najaf at the end of August. After suffering heavy losses in Najaf, and a month-long daily bombardment of his groups positions in Sadr City in September, al-Sadr agreed the first week in October to turn over large caches of heavy arms in exchange for money and amnesty for Mahdi militiamen deemed by the government not to have committed any crimes.
Some 2,000 Iraqi soldiers fought alongside 3,000 U.S. troops in sweeping anti-government militias from Samarra the first week in October. The U.S. commander in charge of the attack on Samarra praised the performance of Iraqi troops, crediting them for driving a militia force from an important mosque in the city.
That success, said USA Today, has left some Iraqi soldiers itching to get to Fallujah. The insurgents there will run like the rats did at Samarra, said Maj. Walid Shaker, a member of a new U.S.-trained Iraqi police commando unit, the paper said.
If there is an offensive in Fallujah, it will have to involve Iraqi security forces, said British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster, deputy commander in charge of training and organizing the new Iraqi force. There are 108,000 trained and equipped Iraqi personnel with a goal of deploying 270,000 by the middle of 2006, said British Army Lt. Gen. John McColl.
U.S. commanders told USA Today that a ground offensive in Fallujah will look very different from the debacle in March and April and that Iraqi forces will take a larger role. These people mean business, said McColl.
In another development on October 21, a U.S. military court in Iraq sentenced Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick to eight years in prison for his role in the abuse and torture of Iraqis jailed at the Abu Ghraib prison. Frederick, the highest ranking of eight soldiers charged in the case, had his sentence reduced from 10 years to 8 in a plea bargain in which he agreed to cooperate with the prosecution in pending cases. Fredericks attorney, however, said he plans to appeal the sentence, calling it excessive.
The Army also announced it will court-martial Spc. Charles Graner and Sgt. Javal Davis early next year. Graner faces up to 28 years in prison if convicted. Graner, Davis, and Frederick are all enlisted reservists and have said they were following officers orders. No officers have been charged.
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