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Coalition sends reinforcements to Fallujah

U.S. soldiers, contractors, other nationals missing, taken hostage



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BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Coalition commanders sent reinforcements to the beseiged Sunni Triangle city of Fallujah on Saturday, as they worked to arrange a cease-fire with insurgents there, a top U.S. military spokesman said.

Brig. Gen Mark Kimmitt said that another battalion of U.S. Marines has been sent to the city. Two Marine batallions are already there, along with a fourth battalion that includes members of the Iraq Civil Defense Corps.

Despite a pause in coalition offensive operations and a call for a cease-fire in the city of 200,000 people, "the enemy seems to continue to fight," Kimmitt said.

Coalition forces were still taking small arms and mortar fire, and are "responding to enemy provocations and attacks," he said.

"Maybe there is a communications problem -- that we have not gotten the message out to the leadership; it may be that there is no leadership; or it may be that they have chosen to fight. If it is the latter, that's probably the wrong decision to be making," Kimmitt said in a Saturday news conference.

Earlier Saturday, coalition officials urged insurgents who control the central city to lay down their arms and agree to a bilateral cease-fire.

Iraqi Governing Council members met with Fallujah leaders and leadership of the anti-coalition forces to try to bring calm.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have captured 60 anti-coalition insurgents in the last few days in Fallujah, Kimmitt said, including five fighters from Egypt, Sudan and Syria.

He said those detainees have not been implicated in the March 31 killing and mutilation of four U.S. security contractors in Fallujah.

One witness described Fallujah as a "ghost town" dominated by fighting and evacuated by residents.

Coalition forces suspended their offensive around noon on Friday to allow Iraqis to bury their dead and aid supplies to be brought into the city.

U.S. Marines were letting only women, children and the elderly out of the city, while allowing humanitarian supplies, such as food and medical supplies, to enter.

In other cities around Iraq, fighting continues. In the southern city of Kut, U.S. troops battled the banned militia loyal to militant Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The coalition said on Saturday it has control over about 70 percent of Kut.

The coalition had seized control of the radio and television station by Saturday, as well as a key bridge that provides access to all routes into the city.

The U.S. forces killed 17 militia fighters and captured 55 in Kut, according to the U.S. Army.

Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army controls parts of Karbala and all of the holy city of Najaf.

Soldiers, contractors missing

An Australian television network aired video on Saturday of a man, who appeared to be an American, being held by militants.

In the video, militants got out of a car on the road from Baghdad to Fallujah and asked journalists to look at a hostage sitting in the back seat next to a gunman.

A journalist asked the man what happened and the middle-aged white man replied in a slight Southern accent that "they attacked our convoy. That's all I'm going to say."

It was unclear if the man was referring to an attack Friday on a fuel convoy near the Baghdad International Airport.

The Pentagon said Saturday that two U.S. soldiers and four civilian contractors are unaccounted for after the attack. The four worked for the same company.

A U.S. soldier and an Iraqi driver were killed in the incident and 12 people were wounded, the military in Baghdad said.

Elsewhere, three Japanese and two Israeli Arab civilians are in captivity and two Germans are missing. (Full story)

A group calling itself the Mujahedeen Squadrons has threatened to kill the Japanese hostages if Tokyo does not withdraw its troops from Iraq by Sunday.

Japan has refused to give into the demand, and the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera network reports that the hostages will be released within 24 hours.

Other developments

  • A U.S. airman was killed and two others were wounded early Saturday in a mortar attack at Balad Air Base, the U.S. Central Command said. One of the wounded airmen is in serious condition at an Army hospital and the other was treated and released.
  • About 5 million Shiite worshippers are expected to converge on the holy city of Karbala for the festival of Arbayeen, marking 40 days after the death of Imam Hussein. Celebrations will also take place in Najaf. Fugitive insurgent Abu Musab Zarqawi, believed to have ties to al Qaeda, has called for the killing of Shiites during pilgrimages.
  • Japan has set up an emergency headquarters in Jordan to work on the release of three of its citizens taken hostage in Iraq. Kidnappers have threatened to burn the captives alive on Sunday unless Japan pulls its troops out of Iraq. Japan has rejected the demand, sparking protests. (Full story)
  • The German Foreign Ministry Saturday confirmed that two of its security people assigned to the German Embassy in Baghdad are missing. German media reports the men -- members of the elite GSG9 force -- were traveling with a convoy, which arrived safely in Baghdad. (Full story)
  • Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Saturday arrived in southern Iraq for a surprise visit to Italian troops and regional leaders stationed in Nasiriya, his office in Rome said. (Full story)

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