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U.S. bombs Falluja targets linked to al-Zarqawi

Iraqi interim prime minister vows steps to fight terrorism
An Iraqi boy inspects a destroyed car Monday in Baghdad after a car bomb exploded near a police patrol.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. warplanes bombed houses and other buildings Monday night that the military suspects are used by wanted terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the volatile Iraqi city of Falluja.

The U.S. military said it struck suspected safe houses and weapons-storage facilities in the southern part of the city during two bombing runs overnight.

"Multiple secondary explosions indicate a significant amount of explosives or ammunition inside the houses," a U.S. military statement said.

"Reporting indicates that Zarqawi was planning to use foreign suicide bombers in vehicles rigged with explosives. These pre-emptive strikes will reduce the threat of such attacks."

In the past week, U.S. troops and Iraqi Special Forces have ratcheted up operations against al-Zarqawi and his Unification and Jihad group, which has been blamed for carrying out attacks against Iraqi civilians, police and the U.S. military.

The U.S. military statement said the recent airstrikes have killed senior leadership within al-Zarqawi's group, and that the facilities targeted late Monday and early Tuesday were used by "replacements for senior leadership."

Al-Zarqawi is the most wanted known terrorists in Iraq, with the U.S. State Department offering a $25 million reward for his capture or death.

On Sunday, Islamist Web sites frequently used by Iraqi insurgents posted a message purportedly from al-Zarqawi's group declaring its allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

U.S. officials said the statement appears credible. (Full story)

Allawi addresses National Assembly

Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the nation's interim National Assembly that Iraq is "working 24 hours a day to ... stop the terrorists."

Iraqis are pushing ahead with reforms and improvements, Allawi said, but terrorism and lack of respect for the law are slowing the efforts.

Allawi was generally upbeat in describing the challenges the nation faces as the general elections approach in January.

"We have taken a long way after the fall of the dictator, and the Iraqis were able to breathe for the first time -- breathe freedom," he said. "Now we are hoping for economic growth for our country. We are sure the Iraqi people will be victorious at the end."

He was speaking on the same day that the Arabic-language TV network Al-Jazeera reported the beheadings of two Macedonian construction workers kidnapped near a U.S. base south of Baghdad on August 28.

Al-Jazeera reported a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq accused the men of spying for U.S. forces. The network broadcast video of the men and identification papers, but did not show their killings.

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which has contributed about 40 soldiers to the coalition forces in Iraq, is trying to confirm the report.

Allawi said Monday that Iraq faces three kinds of terrorism: criminal acts by professionals; sabotage by members of the former Baathist regime; and actions by foreign elements trying to destabilize the country.

As part of the solution, Allawi referred to the interim government's extension of the weapons-handover program for Sadr City, a Baghdad slum where anti-U.S. sentiment runs high. Iraqis who turn over weapons get a coupon they can later exchange for cash from the Iraqi government.

The program has been extended until the end of the week for members of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia. (Full story)

Allawi said the arms amnesty program will be expanded nationwide.

"These steps are part of the efforts exerted in preparation for the elections," he said. "The government is determined to get rid of the weapons of the cities. ... We do not see any reason to have weapons in the home."

Other developments

  • Sheikh Khalid Humood al-Jumaily, who has headed peace talks with the interim government on behalf of Fallujans, was released Monday after being detained by U.S. troops Friday, Iraq's interior minister said. The talks broke down last week after Allawi threatened to send in troops if Fallujah's residents didn't turn over Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is suspected behind several attacks in Iraq.
  • The British will make a decision by midweek on whether to grant an American request to redeploy their troops from southern Iraq into the U.S.-controlled sector of the country, British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon said Monday. The move would free some U.S. troops to expand operations elsewhere in the country. The redeployment may be necessary "to ensure that free elections take place in January," Hoon told the House of Commons. (Full story)
  • Australia won't dispatch additional troops to Iraq despite a U.N. request for more manpower for the country's January elections, a foreign ministry spokesman said Monday. "We're supporting the U.N. presence in Iraq by providing equipment and training for the Fijian contingent," spokesman Chris Kenny said, adding that Australia won't add to the 850 noncombat troops it has in the region. (Full story)

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