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Last Updated: Friday, 22 October, 2004, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Bound for the 'triangle of death'

By Paul Wood
BBC correspondent in Baghdad

British troops are being redeployed to central Iraq after a request for assistance from the US. The BBC's Paul Wood describes what they can expect when they move into the "triangle of death" south of Baghdad.

British soldier in Basra
UK troops are heading to more dangerous cities like Fallujah
The US Marines called it "Camp Incoming" because of the regularity of the mortar and rocket propelled grenade attacks.

This was one small base right in the heart of the "triangle of death", an area where a battalion of British soldiers are now thought to be heading.

The triangle of death includes towns like Mahmoudia and Latifiya. After Fallujah, there are no more dangerous places in Iraq.

Foreigners no longer venture down the roads south of Baghdad which lead through these places. There are too many kidnappings and shootings.

It is widely believed that the British hostage Kenneth Bigley was beheaded in Latifiya.

Threats issued

The road from Mahmoudia to Hilla was where seven Spanish intelligence agents were ambushed and killed.

These are all Sunni Muslim areas, containing people likely to be angered by the coming assault on Fallujah.

On Wednesday, a meeting of more than 150 influential Sunni Muslim clerics - in the Association of Muslim Scholars - condemned the coming offensive.

Iraq
The clerics called on Arab and Islamic organisations to condemn "genocide" in Fallujah and they threatened to take "severe" action if the situation in the city worsened.

British troops will not be deployed south of Baghdad indefinitely - just long enough for the US forces to take Fallujah for the third, and they hope, the final time.

The first time was during the war last year.

The second was in April, when the assault was called off because of fears about reaction in the rest of Iraq.

Now there is an Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, who says he is determined to see the job through.

'Constant' skirmishes

Taking Fallujah will, says the Coalition, allow the city to join elections in January and, they hope, deliver a crushing blow to the Iraqi insurgency.

The Pentagon believes there are some 20,000 "resistance" fighters in Iraq.

British military sources say it could be as high as 50,000. Whatever the correct figure, many are in Fallujah.

So there has been a steady tightening of the noose around the city, with a ring of checkpoints to stop insurgents from fleeing.

There has been constant skirmishing over the past few days, with the Americans calling in air strikes whenever the militants show themselves.

The final assault is expected in the coming days or weeks.





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