U.S.: Saddam regime funds financing Iraq insurgency
New assessment of 12,000 insurgents shows resistance growing
Iraqi men inspect the debris of a destroyed house Friday after a U.S. airstrike overnight in Falluja.
New thinking about the sources and funding of insurgents in Iraq.
Photographers explain dangers of covering stories in Iraq.
Female hostage pleads for freedom from her captors.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About $500 million in unaccounted funds from Saddam Hussein's former regime is being used to finance a growing insurgency in Iraq, a U.S. military intelligence official said Friday.
The official said that, and other key findings, are contained in an updated military intelligence assessment of the Iraq insurgency.
The top finding is that the United States believes about a half-billion dollars that once belonged to the former Iraqi government, along with funds from individuals and religious groups in Saudi Arabia, is being funneled through Syria and used to fund insurgents.
The official said other findings included: The absence of any unifying elements between 50 widely dispersed cells around the country.Evidence that criminals, as opposed to terrorists with an overt political motivation, have conducted about 80 percent of the recent attacks.Evidence that elements of the Baath Party are active "and even coming together in their efforts to regain control, disrupt organized government and to fund insurgent activities."An indication that capturing or killing Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would stop or slow insurgent activity significantly.
The report says there is a core maximum of about 12,000 insurgents across the country, including foreign fighters, criminals and disaffected Iraqis.
"Some foreign fighters are coming in, but more of concern is the numbers of Iraqis picking up the fight," the official said.
He added that the insurgency is growing, as show by the fact that the U.S.-led coalition appears to have captured or killed more insurgents than the original estimate -- 5,000 to 7,000 -- and there are still about 12,000 out there.
Suspected arms sites hit
The intelligence assessment was disclosed on a day when U.S. warplanes destroyed suspected weapons-storage sites in Falluja, the U.S. military said.
The Falluja airstrike was another Marine assault on targets in the city west of Baghdad in the so-called "Sunni Triangle," a terrorist and insurgent stronghold.
Doctors at Falluja General Hospital said the assault Friday killed at least six people. The U.S. military said it had no reports of casualties.
U.S. Marines also battled insurgents for about six hours in a fierce firefight Friday near Falluja.
The fighting began about 4 p.m. (9 a.m. ET), when insurgents fired small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at Marines conducting security operations southeast of the city.
"Marines responded to these attacks with proportionate force, including precision aerial munitions and ground fires, killing several insurgents," the Marines said.
There were no Marine casualties.
Elsewhere in Iraq, armed fighters attacked Iraqi national guard soldiers who had raided a mosque in the northern city of Mosul in search of suspected terrorists. One civilian suffered minor injuries in the attack, the U.S. military said.
Also, the military reported that insurgents ambushed an American patrol Friday near Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, and fighting ensued. Nine people, including two children, were injured in the fighting, a Baquba General Hospital official said.
Interim Iraqi government officials are warning that there will be a full-scale offensive against al-Zarqawi's network and other fighters if Fallujans fail to hand over militants to authorities.
But the activity in Falluja came as an influential Sunni Muslim leader -- Sheikh Fakhri al-Qasi, speaking for the Al-Shura Society for the Sunni people -- warned U.S.-led forces not to conduct an offensive in the city and said such an assault would meet stiff opposition.
Other developmentsU.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has "serious doubts" that the special tribunal chosen to try Saddam Hussein and his top associates could meet judicial standards for fair and open proceedings, a U.N. spokesman said Friday. "It's doubtful whether U.N. officials should be involved in the establishment of a tribunal that is not a U.N. body," Stephane Dujarric said. "We have serious doubts regarding the capability of the Iraqi special tribunal to meet the relevant international standards."A hand grenade was thrown at the house of a correspondent for the U.S.-funded Al-Hurra network in Baghdad's al-Shaab neighborhood Friday. The correspondent, Omar Mohammed Hussein, was not injured in the attack, and there were no casualties, police said. But the house and the correspondent's car were damaged, they said. Police said they believe the house was struck because Hussein works with Al-Hurra, the Arabic-language satellite network broadcast in Arab countries. It was launched in February.A military judge ordered a U.S. reservist to stand trial January 7 in Baghdad in connection with inmate abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison. He is Spc. Charles Graner Jr. of the 372nd Military Police Company of Cresaptown, Maryland, the one-time boyfriend of Pfc. Lynndie England, who had appeared in the most widely publicized photos from Abu Ghraib. (Full story)A U.S. military hearing in Baghdad reconvened Friday to decide whether there is enough evidence to try an American soldier on charges of premeditated murder while on duty in Iraq. The soldier, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Alban of C Company, 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry Regiment, could face the death penalty or life in prison if convicted. Margaret Hassan, the kidnapped director of CARE International in Baghdad, was shown on a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera pleading for her life. In the video, Hassan spoke to the camera, sobbing and crying. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the video "extremely distressing." (Full story)U.S. soldiers and Marines netted weapons and detained 40 people in an operation last week in a rural area south of Baghdad along the Tigris River, the military said Friday. The military also reported that raids on Thursday farther north around Tikrit also resulted in arrests and weapons seizures.
CNN's Barbara Starr and Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.