Forces enter bloody combat in Fallujah

NEAR FALLUJAH, Iraq – U.S. troops powered their way into thecenter of the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah on Tuesday,overwhelming small bands of guerrillas with massive force,searching homes along the city’s deserted, narrow passageways andusing loudspeakers to try to goad militants onto the streets.

As of Tuesday night, the fighting had killed 10 U.S. troops andtwo members of the Iraqi security force, the U.S. militaryannounced. The toll already equaled the 10 U.S. military deathswhen Marines besieged the city for three weeks in April.

U.S. officials issued no estimate of insurgent casualties, butone U.S. commander said his battalion alone had killed or woundedup to 90 guerrillas.

As the offensive moved into a second full day, up to eightattack aircraft – including jets and helicopter gunships – blastedguerrilla strongholds and raked the streets with rocket, cannon andmachine-gun fire ahead of U.S. and Iraqi infantry who wereadvancing only one or two blocks behind the curtain of fire.

Small groups of guerrillas, armed with rifles, rocket-propelledgrenades, mortars and machine guns, engaged U.S. troops, then fellback. U.S. troops inspected houses along Fallujah’s streets and ranacross adjoining alleyways, mindful of snipers.

A psychological operations unit broadcast announcements inArabic meant to draw out gunmen. An Iraqi translator from the groupsaid through a loudspeaker: “Brave terrorists, I am waiting herefor the brave terrorists. Come and kill us. Plant small bombs onroadsides. Attention, attention, terrorists of Fallujah.”

Faced with overwhelming force, resistance in Fallujah did notappear as fierce as expected, though the top U.S. commander in Iraqsaid he still expected “several more days of tough urban fighting”as insurgents fell back toward the southern end of the city,perhaps for a last stand.

Some U.S. military officers estimated they controlled about athird of the city. Commanders said they had not fully secured thenorthern half of Fallujah but were well on their way as U.S. andIraqi troops searched for insurgents.

U.S. and Iraqi troops captured two key landmarks Tuesday – amosque and neighboring convention center that insurgents used forlaunching attacks, according to a Los Angeles Times reporterembedded with U.S. forces.

“I’m surprised how quickly [resistance] broke and how quicklythey ran away, a force of foreign fighters who were supposed tofight to the death,” Lt. Col. Pete Newell, a battalion commander inthe 1st Infantry Division, told CNN.

Newell was quoted on CNN’s web site as saying his battalion hadkilled or wounded 85 to 90 insurgents.

The move against Fallujah prompted influential Sunni Muslimclerics to call for a boycott of national elections set forJanuary.

U.S. commanders have said the Fallujah invasion is thecenterpiece of an attempt to secure insurgent-held areas so votingcan be held.

Prime Minister Ayad Allawi declared a nighttime curfew inBaghdad and its surroundings – the first in the capital for a year- to prevent insurgents from opening up a “second front” to try todraw U.S. forces away from Fallujah. Clashes erupted in thenorthern city of Mosul and near the Sunni bastion of Ramadi,explosions were reported in at least two cities and maskedmilitants brandished weapons and warned merchants to close theirshops.