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Street-to-street fighting in Falluja

19 killed, 15 wounded in Baghdad car bomb attack

U.S. Marines of the fifth division arrest Iraqi men in the center of Falluja, Iraq, Thursday.
Watch for CNN correspondents' frequent updates on the situation on the ground: live reports from the U.S.-Iraqi offensive in Falluja.  
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In eastern Falluja, the Army has found a trail of booby traps.

U.S. Iraqi forces say they control 70 percent of Falluja.

Fighting continues across Iraq, "slaughterhouses" in Falluja discoverd.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S.-led forces engaged in fierce street fights Thursday in Falluja, part of an operation that has claimed the lives of 18 U.S. troops and five Iraqi soldiers.

Combat has become more difficult as the U.S.-led forces have entered the heart of the city, which is west of Baghdad.

The troops have begun to dismantle hundreds of homemade bombs left by the insurgents, often while under fire.

Maj. Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of the 1st Marine Division, reported Thursday's death toll, an increase from 11 the day before.

Natonski said 178 U.S. service members and 34 Iraqi soldiers have been wounded.

He went out of his way to praise the Iraqi forces.

"They are our brothers in arms and they are the future of this country," he said, adding that "the respect and camaraderie between U.S. and Iraqi forces is something to behold."

Natonski said that Thursday's focus was on clearing operations.

He said that arms caches, bomb factories, fortifications or weapons repair facilities were found at nearly every mosque the troops searched.

He added that the fighters used schools for weapons storage and sniped at soldiers from minarets.

"We respect the law of war, unlike our adversary, who uses mosques," said Natonski.

The Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany received 58 wounded U.S. troops, mostly from Falluja, on Thursday.

On Wednesday, 68 troops, mostly from Falluja, were sent to Landstuhl, spokeswoman Mary Shaw said. These totals were a sharp increase from earlier in the week when the American-led forces began moving into the city.

Shaw said the patients suffered from blast and gunshot injuries, and some are in serious condition.

So far, more than 500 insurgents have been killed, officials at the Pentagon said Thursday.

The ground troops battled pockets of insurgents in street-by-street battles. The troops were backed by artillery and airstrikes during the fourth day of fighting in the offensive against hard-core insurgents.

The troops continue to locate insurgents in buildings and along alleys.

Natonski said earlier that U.S. forces found a beaten, shackled captive at a site believed to be a "hostage slaughterhouse." (Full story)

In another part of the city, two AH-1 Marine Cobras made safe landings "after being engaged by ground forces" in the Falluja area, the U.S. military said.

"The crews landed their aircraft under their own power and the areas in Falluja where they landed have been secured by [U.S.-led multinational] forces," according to a spokesman for the Combined Press Information Center.

Military officials said Wednesday that U.S. and Iraqi forces have taken control of about 70 percent of Falluja, including key buildings.

An estimated 10,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines, along with about 2,000 troops from Iraq's new army, have been running into small pockets of fighters as they fight their way through the city.

The offensive, launched Sunday, is dubbed Operation New Dawn and targets an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 insurgents. (Gallery)

Falluja was considered an insurgent command-and-control center for the rest of the country and a base for Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network. (Falluja map)

Suicide attack in Baghdad

A suicide car bomb attack Thursday killed at least 19 people and heavily damaged storefronts in a busy commercial district of central Baghdad, an Iraqi police official said.

Fifteen others were wounded in the attack, which targeted a vehicle carrying Americans and a police vehicle.

Twenty-five cars were destroyed and burned, and 20 shops and buildings were damaged in the explosion.

The blast left a hole on the ground about three meters deep and four meters wide.

The attack shook al-Nasser Square near Saadoun Street at 11:35 a.m. (3:30 a.m. ET) in the capital's Rasafa district.

Police targeted by insurgents

In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, police have become the targets of insurgents, prompting an offensive from U.S. soldiers and the Iraqi national guard.

In overnight raids, insurgents attacked and burned several government facilities, mostly police stations, a Task Force Olympia spokeswoman said.

An Iraqi police official said there have been confrontations between insurgents and Mosul police inside their stations.

As a result of the overnight raids, U.S. soldiers from the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division joined the Iraqi national guard in offensive operations in southeastern and southwestern Mosul, according to a statement from Task Force Olympia.

Iraqi security forces and multinational forces established checkpoints in different locations throughout the city.

Imams broadcast messages from loudspeakers on top of mosques asking residents not to burn police stations because they are public property.

Police visibility on the streets appeared to be low.

According to one resident, stores were closed Thursday morning and the streets were quiet. Insurgents were seen roaming freely on streets. The resident described the city as dangerous and tense.

Nineveh's provincial governor, Duraid Kashmoula, imposed a 48-hour curfew on the city Wednesday.

Other developments

  • The Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera aired video Thursday of what it said was a middle-aged Lebanese-American contractor abducted in Iraq. The network did not air audio from the hostage, who it said was identified in the video as Dean Sadek Mohammad Sadek. It said he appealed to all contractors not to work with his company, SkyLink Air and Logistic Support, an American-based company that has helped to reopen and manage Iraqi airports. According to Al-Jazeera, a militant group known as the Revolution of the 20th, took him hostage.
  • The governor of Kirkuk survived an assassination attempt Thursday by Iraqi insurgents, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division said. Gov. Abdul Rahman Mustafa was traveling from his home to a government building when a car bomb exploded near his convoy at about 8:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. ET). The governor was not hurt in the attack, but four Iraqi security guards were wounded. Kirkuk is north of Baghdad.
  • At least two members of interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's extended family were abducted at gunpoint Wednesday from their home in Baghdad amid conflicting reports from government officials and sources close to the family. A group called Ansar al-Jihad claimed responsibility for the kidnapping on a Web site, saying there were three hostages. The prime minister's office Wednesday said it was aware of the abduction of two family members -- Allawi's cousin, Ghazy Allawi, 75, and his cousin's daughter-in-law. (Full story)
  • CNN's Jane Arraf, embedded with the U.S. Army, Cal Perry; Faris Qasira; Nic Robertson, embedded with the U.S. Marines; and Mohammed Tawfeeq and Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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