U.S. bombs Fallujah sites

FALLUJAH, Iraq – U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs and fired powerful airborne howitzers Wednesday at what military officials said were Sunni Muslim insurgents who had fired on Marines ringing this city.

The airstrikes in three different sections of Fallujah were the most aggressive American response to guerrilla attacks since U.S. commanders and Iraqi officials signed a cease-fire deal earlier this month.

With tensions on the rise, Marine commanders postponed plans to conduct joint patrols of the city today with Iraqi policemen and civil defense troops. The patrols, regarded as a key element of the cease-fire agreement, now are scheduled to begin Friday, a senior Marine officer said.

The delay was a setback to U.S. attempts to address the insurgent threat in Fallujah with methods other than a resumption of full-scale Marine raids. The patrols, which are to enter sections of Fallujah not under Marine control, are intended to embolden Iraqi forces to take the lead in controlling the city.

The decision to postpone the patrols came a few hours after fighter jets screeched over the flat, dusty city on bombing runs. Warplanes dropped 10 bombs on the southern end of the city, sending plumes of gray smoke billowing into the air. They also bombed the northeastern section of Fallujah and the northwestern district, known as Jolan, where insurgent activity has been particularly intense.

After insurgents fired on Marines near the city’s train station, located on the northern fringe, two AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopters were summoned to the scene, and buzzed over northern Fallujah all afternoon. After dark, the helicopters were replaced by an AC-130 Spectre gunship, which pounded away at targets, with the thump-thump of its 105mm howitzer echoing across the darkened city.

The chief U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, insisted the cease-fire agreement reached April 19 was still in effect. He said that between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon, there were 11 violations of the cease-fire, including 10 attacks with small arms and one attack involving mortar fire.

Kimmitt said civic leaders who agreed to the cease-fire – with promises that they would compel insurgents to stop attacks and hand over their weapons – “have not delivered.” He emphasized that U.S. commanders “would like to be part of a nonmilitary solution,” but added that they were frustrated by the apparent inability of city negotiators to rein in the rebels or to identify those responsible for a Feb. 14 attack on a city police station and the March 31 killings of four American security contractors.

“They continue to tell us that they represent the people, but they don’t deliver,” Kimmitt said. “We don’t see the weapons. We don’t see the foreign fighters. We don’t see any intelligence suggesting who was involved in the attack on the police station in February nor the killing of the Blackwater contractors last month.”

In Washington, President Bush said, “There are pockets of resistance, and our military along with Iraqis will make sure it’s secure.” He also said, “Most of Fallujah is returning to normal.”

In southern Iraq, witnesses reported clashes Wednesday night near the town of Kufa, the base for militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose militia has fought U.S. troops off and on for the past three weeks. The conflict in Fallujah, predominantly inhabited by Sunni Muslims, has had a ripple effect in other towns in the Sunni Triangle that stretches north and west from Baghdad, U.S. military commanders said.

“Sunni opportunists and cells of Saddam loyalists” have tried to take advantage of the situation in Fallujah to foment unrest in towns such as Balad, Baqubah and Samarra, north of Baghdad, said Maj. Gen. John Batiste, commander of the 1st Infantry Division, which controls the north-central section of the country. Batiste spoke at a news conference in Tikrit, the home town of Saddam Hussein, on the day the former president turned 67.

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