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Fallouja Toll Rises; Bombing in Baghdad

Times Staff Writers

U.S. forces pushed into southern Fallouja on Thursday after achieving many of their objectives elsewhere in the city. Continued heavy fighting in some areas increased the toll to 18 U.S. soldiers and five Iraqi officers killed since the beginning of the operation, press officers here said.

Violence flared elsewhere in the country. In Baghdad, a powerful car bomb ripped across a busy shopping street, killing at least 20 people and wounding 30, police on the scene said. In Mosul, the northern city that is Iraq’s third largest, street fights raged for a second day and insurgents appeared to completely control several neighborhoods.

In a brief statement, the U.S. military said that 178 U.S. and 34 Iraqi troops had been wounded since the battle to take Fallouja from rebel control began late Monday. The more severely injured -- 102 on Thursday -- were flown to Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany, the usual facility for badly injured soldiers.

About 600 Iraqi insurgents were killed, a military spokesman said, but it was unclear how that estimate was computed. Several people who escaped Fallouja and made their way to Baghdad said they had to walk over corpses as they left and that the city stank of rotting bodies.

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There was no information on civilian casualties.

“It has been some hard fighting. And there have been a lot of insurgents -- many, many, insurgents, hundreds and hundreds of insurgents who have either been killed or captured in this activity so far,” Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with ABC News.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that operations in Fallouja were proceeding well and that he had no doubt that U.S. and Iraqi forces would be successful in wresting control of the city from the rebels.

“They’ll take as long as they take,” Rumsfeld said, speaking to reporters en route to El Salvador, the first stop of a weeklong trip through Central and South America that will end with a meeting of defense ministers in Ecuador.

U.S. and Iraqi forces who seized control of much of the city searched house-to-house for insurgents and weapons caches, said Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Fallouja, in a news conference that was also broadcast at the Pentagon. He also said two U.S. helicopters crashed without fatalities.

“Do we expect to see more insurgents in the days ahead?” he asked. “Yes, we do. And we plan on killing them.”

Natonski described troops finding a severely beaten man in the Jolan area in northwestern Fallouja and taking the bound victim to a local hospital. The man was found in a nondescript concrete home with a “room that people called a slaughterhouse” and a weapons cache, the general said.

It remained unclear whether the building had been used by Jordanian insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, believed to be the man who has beheaded several foreigners in gruesome videos that have been used to pressure coalition nations and organizations to leave Iraq.

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“The room was small. There were no windows, just one door. Inside, the flag was on the wall,” Natonski said. “There were two thin mattresses and straw mats covered in blood. There was a computer and many computer disks found inside the room. There was also a wheelchair, which we believe was used to move the prisoners around.”

With the influx of Fallouja refugees in Baghdad there was also an increase in violence in the capital, especially in western districts where many have sought shelter. Fallouja is about 30 miles west of Baghdad.

However, the most damaging attack Thursday was a car bomb that exploded near Nasser Square, on a busy shopping street that is also home to many of the city’s best medical clinics. The bomber detonated his car next to a line of Iraqis waiting fill their cars with gasoline. About 15 cars were ignited, most with their owners inside.

The bomb destroyed several small buildings nearby and buried people in the debris. Police quickly surrounded the area. One officer, whose car was partly damaged in the blast and who asked not to be named, was visibly shaken.

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“I was very near where the bomb went off. I almost died, my friend Qasim Kadihm, who was riding in the back seat, was wounded and is now in the hospital, I don’t know why these Arab terrorists come to Iraq to destroy it.

“Why don’t they first go and clean their countries -- Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia is filled with Jews, how come they don’t have any car bombs like this? I picked up an old man beheaded lying on the street. What did he do to deserve this?”

Another bystander blamed “remnants of Saddam” Hussein’s regime.

On the west side of Baghdad, there were gun fights in the Ghaziliya neighborhood and near the road to the airport, U.S. forces staged a raid at the Ibn Tamiya mosque, where some preachers advocate resistance to the foreign military presence.

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In Mosul, three police stations were overrun by insurgents early Thursday morning and five others were attacked later in the day, a Los Angeles Times special correspondent in the city said.

There were few Iraqi national guardsmen visible and no police patrols or traffic police in evidence. Despite calls by the provincial governor to adhere to the curfew, most ignored it. Insurgents threatened journalists and said they would continue their fight against the occupation.

Mosul residents seemed resigned to the anarchy. Several said Mosul was already in the hands of insurgents, so there was no point in heeding the governor.

A car bomb in Kirkuk, also in the north, targeted the city’s governor. It missed him but wounded three of his bodyguards and 16 other people.

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Rubin reported from Baghdad and Hendren from Washington. Staff writer Mark Mazzetti contributed from San Salvador.


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