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Last Updated: Saturday, 2 October, 2004, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Iraq rebel city 'under US grip'
US soldier in Samarra
The US and Iraqis have vowed to re-take all rebel-held cities
US and Iraqi forces say they have tightened their grip on Samarra after an operation that began on Friday that reportedly left over 125 rebels dead.

Sporadic gunfire could still be heard on Saturday, but the Sunni city appeared to be generally calm.

"It is over in Samarra," Iraq's defence minister said in an interview with Arab television network al-Arabiya.

On Saturday, US forces carried out a fresh air strike on the Sunni city of Falluja - the second in 24 hours.

Samarra and Falluja are two of several pockets in Iraq that over the past few months have fallen into the hands of insurgents.

The Americans and Iraq's interim government say they are determined to retake rebel-held areas ahead of January's scheduled elections.

But an influential group of Sunni Muslim clerics said resorting to iron and fire was the wrong way to go about preparing for a vote.

In other developments:

  • An Iraqi militant group, Ansar al-Sunna, posts video footage on its website showing an Iraqi man being beheaded for working for the US in Iraq

  • Militants holding two Indonesian women hostage say they will free them if Indonesia releases Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a cleric suspected of leading the radical Jemaah Islamiah group. Ba'asyir rejects the link and demands the "immediate" release of the women, according to reports

  • A Jordanian transport company, Starline, says it will halt is operations in Iraq after kidnappers threatened to kill one of the firm's employees.

Snipers

US and Iraqi authorities say they control about 70% of Samarra - which lies on the main highway from Baghdad to northern Iraq - and only pockets of resistance remain. They said more than 80 people had been arrested.


People emerged from their homes for the first time to survey the damage of Friday's massive operation.

Many bodies were strewn in the street. "They are buried in the gardens of their homes," Ali Abdul-Latif told the Associated Press news agency.

Witnesses in the centre of the city have spoken of American snipers shooting at anyone who appeared on the streets.

One ambulance driver said medics have been unable to get to the injured.

Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem Shaalan told al-Arabiya that Iraqi forces played the main part in the fighting - US troops "only provided cover for our operations".

He said up to $40m was being allocated for reconstruction and compensation to residents of the embattled city.

Water and electricity supplies in Samarra are reported to have been cut off, and the main hospital says it is short of bandages and oxygen.

Some 5,000 troops poured into the city during Friday in one of the biggest offensives since the invasion of Iraq.

A US infantry commander, Maj Gen John Batiste, told CNN television that it had resulted in the deaths of 125 insurgents and that 88 others had been captured.

New Falluja raid

In Falluja, another rebel stronghold, the Americans said they had launched a precision air strike on a building where insurgents were conducting "military-style training".

Man cradles injured son in Falluja, October 2 2004
The US denies innocent civilians were caught up in the strike

"Anti-Iraqi Force criminals are reported to have links to local terrorist elements, specifically the [Jordanian-born militant] Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terrorist network," a US military statement said.

No casualty figures are available.

Last night, at least seven people were killed and 13 wounded in a similar attack on a suspected hideout of Zarqawi followers, the city's hospital said.




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Watch US and Iraqi forces tackle rebels in Samarra



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