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Humanitarian efforts set to begin in Falluja

U.S., Iraqi forces control nearly all of restive city
A Red Crescent worker in Baghdad loads food into a truck Saturday to be delivered to citizens in Falluja.
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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U.S. forces gain control of most of Falluja.

Aid workers and doctors are unable to work in Falluja.
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FALLUJA, Iraq (CNN) -- Humanitarian efforts are poised to begin in Falluja as U.S. and Iraqi forces battle what some officials say are the last remnants of the insurgency in the western Iraqi city.

Residents are starting to emerge from their homes in the northeast and there are plans to bring in food and water, said Col. Craig Tucker, commander of U.S. 7th Regimental Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division.

An Iraqi Red Crescent convoy rolled into Falluja on Saturday as far as the general hospital on the city's western outskirts, but U.S. troops stopped the trucks and no supplies were distributed.

Ferdoos al-Ubadi, an Iraqi Red Crescent spokeswoman, told CNN on Saturday night that the aid workers will remain at the hospital and will negotiate with authorities to do their work.

The city's general hospital is open and ready to treat injured civilians after being occupied by Iraqi commandos during the weeklong offensive.

One Iraqi official said at least 14 civilians in the city have been wounded.

A government convoy of medical equipment left Baghdad on Saturday, carrying 15 tons destined for the hospital, Iraq's health minister said.

Also, 20 civilian ambulances are at the city's edge, the minister said.

Before fighting first erupted in Falluja months ago, the city was populated by 250,000 to 300,000 people. (Falluja map)

Eight humanitarian groups in Iraq, including the Japan International Volunteer Center and the Mennonite Central Committee, have signed a letter expressing alarm for the safety of civilians in Falluja and other areas of Sunni-dominated Anbar province.

The groups urge the international community to develop conditions making it possible to deliver humanitarian aid and that a "humanitarian corridor should be created immediately to serve as an exit route for civilians trapped in the conflict zone."

"Aid workers on the ground estimate that more then 200,000 people have fled Falluja, seeking shelter and protection in neighboring areas.

"Those displaced communities lack drinkable water and food; the available shelters (private or public buildings) are overcrowded.

"Health facilities are facing difficulties for lack of personnel and shortage of drugs," the letter said.

Battle 'almost finished'

As many as 1,000 insurgents have been killed in the six-day battle, an operation that is "almost finished," Iraqi national security adviser Kasim Dawood said Saturday.

But terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and a lieutenant, Abdullah Junabi, both escaped, he said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters in Panama City, Panama: "The Coalition of Iraqi forces have completed the move for all practical purposes from the north to the south. They are operating in one way or another in much, if not all, parts of the city at the present time."

Falluja is largely deserted, Dawood said, adding that up to 90 percent of the residents have left.

Dawood also reported that 200 insurgents have been captured and Falluja is "liberated except for some pockets."

A CNN correspondent embedded with U.S. Marines reported that small groups of insurgents still pose a threat to the Marines, but the intensity of fighting has dropped off.

Insurgents in groups of five to 20 have been surrendering in northeast Falluja, where the U.S. military is in control, said Tucker, the commander of 7th Regimental Combat Team.

Lt. Col. Pete Newell, commander of Task Force 2-2 of the 1st Infantry Division, said his unit has cornered the insurgents in southern Falluja -- a stronghold for fighters loyal to al-Zarqawi.

A Marine commander said Saturday that those who surrender are mostly Iraqis. He said foreign fighters appear to be holding their ground and fighting to the death in many cases.

In one part of the city, troops found underground tunnels, and the Air Force dropped 500-pound laser-guided bombs on some bunkers, a CNN correspondent said.

Some of the underground facilities were stocked with medical supplies, the Army said.

In one instance, a tunnel complex caved in as a tank drove over it. The tank dropped in and had to be pulled up by a recovery vehicle. There were no injuries.

Despite the strides, Newell said that it could take months to clear the city of all insurgents.

So far, 22 U.S. troops have been killed in Falluja, Lt. Gen. John Sattler said Friday.

About 170 troops have been wounded, and 40 of them have returned to the battlefield.

Battles elsewhere

In other cities in Iraq, insurgents kept pressure on U.S. and Iraqi forces, who say they want to stabilize the country ahead of scheduled January elections for a transitional national assembly.

Northeast of Baghdad on Friday, insurgents shot down a helicopter, injuring three. One soldier died and three other people were wounded when a Task Force Baghdad patrol was ambushed Friday afternoon in the southern section of the capital.

In Baquba, north of Baghdad, four people were wounded during fighting between insurgents and police.

In the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, U.S. airstrikes targeted insurgents they blame for attacking government buildings earlier in the week.

Other developments

  • Iraqi Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Saturday that the kidnapping of his relatives earlier this week won't discourage him from carrying out his duties. "I'm not going to be deterred by this," Allawi said. His cousin and cousin's pregnant daughter-in-law were seized, Allawi's office said, but a source close to the family said three people were kidnapped. There is no word on the fate of the hostages.
  • One coalition soldier was killed and three were wounded when insurgents attacked a military base outside Baghdad on Saturday evening, the U.S. military said. The nationalities of the casualties weren't immediately available.
  • Baghdad International Airport will remain closed to commercial traffic until further notice, a spokesman for Allawi said Saturday. The airport was closed to commercial traffic earlier this week because of security concerns. Iraqi authorities fear reprisals for the U.S. offensive in Falluja.
  • CNN's Jane Arraf, Nic Robertson, Cal Perry, Faris Qasira, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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