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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September, 2004, 09:05 GMT 10:05 UK
US bombards Falluja 'militants'
Buildings in Falluja bombed by US forces
A whole building was flattened in the air strike
At least 15 people have been killed in a joint US-Iraqi attack on militant positions in the restive Iraqi city of Falluja, according to hospital sources.

US artillery bombarded several districts, before circling warplanes opened fire, witnesses said.

The US military said it had "accurately targeted" militants from a group linked to al-Qaeda, but there were reports that civilians were among the dead.

It comes a day after 70 people were killed in fighting across Iraq.

"Intelligence sources reported the presence of several key [Abu Musab] Zarqawi operatives who have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians, Iraqi Security Forces and multinational forces," a US military statement said.

It said, "Iraqi Security Forces and multinational forces effectively and accurately targeted these terrorists while protecting the lives of innocent civilians", without saying where the strike took place.

The US accuses Zarqawi, head of the Tawhid and Jihad movement, of leading al-Qaeda operations in Iraq and for having carried out a spate of car bombings and other attacks.

An AFP reporter said he had seen 15 bodies laid out for burial.

Falah Abdullah, an undertaker at the cemetery in Falluja, told AFP an ambulance driver and two nurses were among those killed when an ambulance was hit.

In other developments:

  • Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, says he expects former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to go on trial before the end of the year

  • Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini is in the Middle East in an effort to secure the release of two Italian women aid workers kidnapped in Iraq

'House flattened'

AFP said at least one house had been flattened by a US missile and two others were partially destroyed.

Ambulances and cars were reported to have been ferrying casualties to hospital.

The agency said four people were killed when a missile struck a civilian car driving on a motorway west of Falluja.

Witnesses described black columns of smoke above Falluja and said hundreds of families had begun to leave town, Reuters reported.

US forces using loudspeakers called on residents to co-operate and "expel terrorists from the centre of the city", Reuters said.

Troops have set up checkpoints at the northern, western and southern entrances to Falluja, the agency reported.

The flashpoint Sunni city, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Baghdad, has long been a centre of some of the fiercest resistance to coalition forces.

The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"The US military wants to crush insurgents who control the town"

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