U.S. Airstrikes Hit Fallouja

Times Staff Writers

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military, backed by warplanes and armored vehicles, raided suspected insurgents in Fallouja and resumed its plan to destroy houses and buildings believed to be used as hideouts by militants.

The early morning strikes, part of the U.S. military effort to break the militants’ iron-grip on the city after months of failed negotiations since April, came at two sites that were used to plan and carry out attacks for followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab Zarqawi, the U.S. military said.

Also today, Poland — a key U.S. ally — said it will begin to pare down the number of troops in Iraq beginning early next year. But Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka, under rising public pressure to bring the 2,500 soldiers home, did not set a specific date.

“We will not remain in Iraq an hour longer than is sensible, than necessary to achieve our mission’s goal: To return Iraq to the Iraqi people and give security to the world,” he was quoted as saying in published reports.

In the attack, three people were killed and seven were injured, according to the Associated Press. The military did not release casualty figures.

On Thursday, Kasim Daoud repeated the interim government’s warning to insurgents and the residents of Fallouja that a joint U.S.-Iraqi attack was imminent unless the city rid itself of guerrillas and handed over Zarqawi.

U.S. troops blocked highways in and out of Fallouja, and early Thursday evening, some residents began fleeing the city after watching insurgents set up positions on rooftops and in mosques, preparing to battle U.S. and Iraqi security forces.

Officials of the U.S. and interim Iraqi governments have blamed foreign militants for instigating some of the worst violence in recent months. At the top of the list is Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born guerrilla believed to be behind recent kidnappings and beheadings of Westerners working in Iraq.

The U.S. strike followed two suicide bombings inside the heavily barricaded Green Zone on Thursday. Jamaat al Tawhid wal Jihad, an Islamist group led by Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the blasts, which left deep craters in the ground and scattered glass, blood and pieces of plastic furniture across a large area.

The blasts, which were the first suicide attacks inside the area that houses the offices of the interim Iraqi government and the U.S. and British embassies, killed at least six civilians, including four Americans.

Home to thousands of American soldiers, diplomats, contractors and Iraqi employees, the Green Zone was designed to serve as a haven for Westerners in Iraq. Many of its residents don’t venture outside the protected compound.

U.S. and Iraqi officials said the attacks probably were the start of an onslaught of violence coinciding with Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting that began today. Last year, violence escalated during the same period.

In Baghdad today, a car bomb exploded near a police station, killing one person and injuring at least 11 others, the Associated Press reported.

Sanders reported from Baghdad, Strickland from Los Angeles. Times wire services contributed to this report.