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Iraq PM pledges to 'liberate' Falluja
November 5, 2004
Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has vowed to "liberate" Falluja, amid growing speculation that a major assault is imminent.

US troops have closed all roads in and out of the rebel-held city and Iraqi troops have taken up position nearby.

US and Iraqi officials are aiming to flush out insurgents ahead of elections in January.

Previous assaults on the city have left large numbers of civilians dead and most of the city's population has fled.

Speaking in Brussels, Mr Allawi said the window was closing for a peaceful settlement in Falluja.

He has repeatedly threatened an all-out assault on the city if residents do not turn in Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is thought to be based there.

Zarqawi's al-Qaeda-linked group has captured and killed hostages and is blamed for a string of suicide bombings.

"We intend to liberate the people and bring the rule of law," Mr Allawi told a news conference at a European Union summit.

"The Falluja people, most of them, have left. The insurgents and the terrorists are still operating there.

"We hope they will come to their senses, otherwise we will have to bring them to face justice."

The BBC 's Paul Wood, who is with US marines outside Falluja, says final preparations appear to be taking place. Units are stocking up with large quantities of artillery shells, and the pace of training has increased.

"We are making last preparations. It will be soon. We are just awaiting orders from Prime Minister Allawi," Marine Col Michael Shupp told Reuters near Falluja.

Weeks of air strikes

US military said it had carried out five air strikes within seven hours on Friday, destroying a command post, arms caches and rebel positions, Reuters reports.

The US has carried out weeks of "precision strikes" aimed at targeting Zarqawi's fighters and other militant groups. The city has been ringed by more than 1,000 US and Iraqi troops since mid-October.

Our correspondent says there is an assumption among the marines that a major assault is inevitable and imminent.

US and Iraqi officials say there are several thousand fighters holed up in the city, 50km (30 miles) west of Baghdad.

The Iraqi authorities say the fighters are highly organised and led by former army officers from Saddam Hussein's army.

The combat hospital at the main US base near Falluja has set up a morgue and doubled medical staff and supplies in preparation for an expected stream of casualties, AP reports.

The US military has been warning residents of Falluja through loudspeakers and leaflets to leave the city. It estimates that out of a population of 300,000, fewer than 60,000 people remain.

In other developments:

* Iraqi Vice-President Ibrahim al-Jaafari says the election date has been set for 27 January. Mr Allawi later tells reporters in Brussels that no date has been set, although elections will take place by the end of January.

* Two children are killed in Muqdadiya, north-east of Baghdad, when a mortar shell intended for a nearby police station hits their home

* Three hostages, two from Lebanon and one from Nepal, are released.


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