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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 June, 2003, 14:36 GMT 15:36 UK
US steps up pressure in Iraq
US tank in Iraq
US troops in Iraq are struggling to restore order
The United States says it is pushing ahead with a major operation against Iraqi fighters, as a deadline expires for people across the country to hand over their weapons.

Iraqis have been given until Saturday to turn in arms hoarded in their homes.

American troops have been involved in fierce battles against Saddam loyalists in the past week, killing up to 100 people during clashes north of the capital Baghdad.

In addition, the US military also says it is interrogating 74 people captured on Thursday near the northern city of Kirkuk, to determine whether they are members of al-Qaeda.

"What we're trying to do is validate that through the interrogation process," a US military spokesman told Reuters news agency.

The operation against Iraqi fighters - Code-named Peninsula Strike - is designed to stamp out continuing resistance to the US occupation.

A US spokesman said the operation would continue "until we have restored peace and prosperity to the people of Iraq".

On Thursday, the Americans said 27 Iraqis were killed after one of their tanks was fired on with rocket-propelled grenades in Balad, about 60 kilometres (35 miles) north of Baghdad.

And at least 70 Iraqis have died this week during a prolonged assault on what the US calls a "terrorist" training camp 150 km (90 miles) north-west of the capital.

Hoarding weapons

US and Iraqi officials have admitted that very few people surrendered weapons ahead of Saturday's deadline.

"In the past two weeks we've had no more than two pieces of arms handed in," an Iraqi policeman in Balad told AFP on Saturday.

"An old man walked in today with a hunting rifle and we told him to take it home."

AMERICANS UNDER FIRE
10 June: One killed in RPG attack in Baghdad
8 June: One shot dead in al-Qaim
7 June: One killed, four injured in attack near Tikrit
27 May: Two dead, nine injured in Falluja

The US military has acknowledged the slow pace of the handover, but said it would respond accordingly.

"After today we will pursue an aggressive policy," said Lieutenant Derek Wilson.

US commanders say they are facing a backlash from small groups organising on a local basis, and not a co-ordinated national movement.

More than 40 US troops have been killed since 1 May, when President George W Bush declared the war in Iraq effectively over.

The senior US official running Iraq, Paul Bremer, has blamed the continuing attacks against US troops on organised resistance by Baath Party loyalists.

Jailbreak

Mr Bremer on Saturday visited Shia tribal leaders south of Baghdad to seek their support.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says the aim was to try to win the backing of traditional sectors of Iraqi society and counter the influence of Iran.

Meanwhile, US military police guarding a prison in Baghdad shot dead one detainee and wounded seven others during an escape attempt on Friday, according to American military officials.

They say guards opened fire after the Iraqi prisoners rushed at them, throwing stones and brandishing metal bars.

One guard sustained minor injuries. The incident happened at the vast Abu Ghraib prison complex, which used to house detainees of the government of Saddam Hussein.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"US forces in Iraq know it's still a dangerous place"



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