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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
US defends tactics at Falluja
Man passes through the blood-spattered kitchen of his house in Falluja
Homes in Falluja have been reduced to rubble by the fighting
The US siege of the Iraqi city of Falluja in which hundreds of people have died is "humane", the Pentagon's top soldier has told reporters.

"There has never been a more humane campaign... and that goes for operations in Falluja," Gen Richard B Myers said during a visit to Baghdad.

New fighting in the city could not be ruled out despite a truce, he added.

He also traced a "common thread" between Sunni gunmen in Falluja and the Shia militants of Moqtada Sadr.

"The common thread is... to stop progress in Iraq," he said, accusing militants in both communities of seeking to destroy the country's new institutions.

The chairman of US joint chiefs of staff was speaking as Mr Sadr continued to hold out in the holy city of Najaf, where he is protected by his Mehdi Army militia while US-led coalition forces mass outside.

'No uprising'

Gen Myers said the Pentagon had approved a request by US commanders in Iraq for extra troops, without giving figures.

Asked about the threat posed by Mr Sadr and his followers, he described the cleric as a "marginal" figure and said the violence in Shia cities this month was the work of "very small groups" which did not enjoy wide support.

Moqtada Sadr

"This was not an uprising," he said.

The head of the team negotiating on behalf of Mr Sadr has announced a hitch in talks, accusing the US of seeking to impose an unspecified "impossible" condition.

"We had expected to reach a compromise... in order to exclude the military solution," Abdelkarim al-Anzi said in remarks broadcast by Qatari TV network al-Jazeera.

"Regrettably, we were surprised when the US side set a new condition... It is an impossible condition and we do not see any justification for it."

On Falluja, Gen Myers said that negotiations were in progress but did not specify who was involved or what terms were being discussed.

He added that talks could not go on forever and the coalition had to be "prepared for further military action".

At least 87 US soldiers have died in action across Iraq this month while five international non-governmental organisations together counted at least 470 Iraqi dead in Falluja alone last week, Reuters news agency reports.

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