American warplanes and ground forces have bombarded targets in central Iraq in the latest series of operations against suspected insurgents.
F-16 fighters were deployed (Picture: US Central Command)
The show of force focused on Baghdad and three towns north of the capital - Tikrit, Baquba and Samarra.
Stepped-up raids began at the weekend after the downing of two US helicopters in the northern city of Mosul.
Six suspected insurgents were killed and 99 detained in operations on Monday, according to the US military.
US Central Command says the operations are being undertaken "in order to stop violence and acts of insurgents who oppose the transition of Iraq to a free and democratic state".
American commanders say they believe most of their adversaries
are former members of deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime, although several hundred
foreign Islamic militants may also be involved.
Critics of the more aggressive tactics of recent days, which come after a period which has seen almost daily fatalities among US forces at the hands of guerrillas, say they will do little to end the insurgency.
"These are operations of the 'search and destroy' type which
are very spectacular and designed primarily to occupy television
airtime for the U.S. public back home," said Francois Gere,
director of France's Institute for Diplomacy and Defence.
"This is like using sledgehammers to swat flies. This is not
how you fight guerrillas.
"For that, you need inside intelligence
from the Iraqis themselves - and these are just the type of
operations which encourage people to think they are dealing with
a brutal army of occupation."
In other developments:
- Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov criticises the "excessive" tendency of the United States to use military force, saying that the level of violence in Iraq shows Moscow was right to oppose the US-led invasion
- Italy holds a state funeral for 19 military and civilian personnel killed last week in a suicide bombing in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriya
- A US military court in Tikrit begins proceedings against a senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel Allen West of the 4th Infantry Division, who is accused of ill-treating a prisoner
- The President of the Philippines, Gloria Arroyo, says her country's small contingent of troops and police in Iraq will be withdrawn if the situation becomes too dangerous.
Tuesday evening saw the US military confirm that AC-130 gunships were in action over Baghdad after a series of loud explosions were reported.
Overnight in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town and a hotbed of resistance, the US army's 4th Infantry Division fired a barrage of mortar and tank rounds from within its headquarters - a former presidential palace.
Helicopter gunships firing missiles were also involved in the assault, which reportedly lasted for more than an hour and lit up the night sky.
A spokesman at the base said the firing was part of an operation designed to
demonstrate that US troops were determined to use all the
weapons at their disposal to go against anti-US forces in Iraq.
"It's an element of this and a show of our capabilities," the
US military officials believe Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former deputy of Saddam Hussein, is orchestrating much of the resistance in the Tikrit area. Capturing him is a top priority.
Baquba saw US jets and Apache helicopter gunships attack buildings, walls and trees along a road
where attacks on American troops have been common.
The suspected ambush
sites were also targeted by tank fire.
The US military said insurgent targets in Samarra were also targeted by F-16 fighter aircraft.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is in Brussels to meet European Union leaders, expressed confidence that the security situation in Iraq could be brought under control before power was handed over to an interim Iraqi government next June.
"The security challenge is a challenge that was given to
us by the remnants of the old regime," he told reporters on Tuesday.
only wish to see the Americans gone, they want to see
"They want to return to the old days of
dictatorial leadership... those days will not be coming
Mr Powell is in Brussels while President George W Bush is in London with his key ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair.