U.S. forces cornered insurgents Wednesday in a small section of Fallujah after a stunningly swift advance that seized control of 70 percent of the militant stronghold. An Iraqi general said troops found "hostage slaughterhouses" where foreign captives had been killed.
The abandoned houses had hostages' documents, CDs showing captives being killed, and black clothing worn by militants in videos, Maj. Gen. Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassem Mohan said.
But it appeared troops did not find any of the at least nine foreigners still in kidnappers' hands — including two Americans. "We have found hostage slaughterhouses in Fallujah that were used by these people," Mohan said. But he said he did not know which hostages' documents were uncovered.
The speed of the U.S. drive in Fallujah may indicate that most Sunni fighters and their leaders abandoned the city before the offensive and moved elsewhere to carry on the fight, officers said. The most notorious kidnapper, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is believed to have fled the city.
Mohan, the commander of Iraqi troops in Fallujah, said fighters are still trying to escape the tight encirclement. He said people were seen earlier trying to slip away by swimming across the Euphrates River.
CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports Marines believe insurgents may be regrouping in other parts of Fallujah.
"Now it's unclear whether they're dead, hiding or getting rid of their weapons to blend in with the civilian population," reports Palmer.
In other developments:
Guerrillas accelerated attacks outside Fallujah in an attempt to open up new fronts to divert U.S.-Iraqi forces, with at least 28 people killed in violence across the country Wednesday — including the 10 people killed when a car bomb targeted a police patrol in Baghdad after sunset.
Gunmen also kidnapped three relatives of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi from their Baghdad home — his cousin, Ghazi Allawi, the cousin's wife and their daughter-in-law, Allawi's spokesman said. A militant group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad claimed in a Web posting to be holding them threatened to behead them in 48 hours unless the Fallujah siege is lifted. The claim's authenticity could not be verified.
Authorities clamped a curfew on the northern city of Mosul as U.S. and Iraqi forces clashed with gunmen there. Fierce fighting also took place in and around Baghdad and in Ramadi, a Sunni stronghold where explosions shook the city as U.S. troops and gunmen battled near the main government building. One U.S. soldier was killed by a bomb north of the capital.
Still, U.S. and Iraqi troops were pushing ahead in Fallujah. Some fighters have sought to surrender, government spokesman Thair al-Naqeeb told reporters, offering an amnesty to those who have not committed "major crimes."
Mohan vowed to finish uprooting Sunni gunmen, pointing to guerrilla slayings of Iraqi security forces in the past.
"For this, the Iraqi armed forces don't want revenge, but they want to get rid of insurgents, the evil, the murderers," he told a press conference alongside Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, the commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Sattler said insurgents had been reduced to "small pockets, blind, moving throughout the city. And we will continue to hunt them down and destroy them." Maj. Francis Piccoli, of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said U.S. forces now control 70 percent of the city.
At least 71 militants have been killed by early Wednesday, the third day of intense urban combat, the military said. As of Tuesday night, 10 U.S. troops and two members of the Iraqi security forces had been killed. Marine reports Wednesday said 25 American troops and 16 Iraqi soldiers were wounded.
U.S. and Iraqi forces seized Fallujah's city hall compound before dawn after a gunbattle with insurgents who hit a U.S. tanks with anti-armor rockets. Iraqi soldiers swept into a police station in the compound and raised a flag above it.
Gunmen fired on troops from a mosque minaret, sparking a battle there, BBC's embedded correspondent Paul Wood reported. Marines said the insurgents waved a white flag at one stage but then opened fire, prompting the Marines to call in airstrikes, Wood said.
Tank gunners opened fire on insurgents in a nearby five-story apartment building, and flames shot from several windows of the building.
Residents reported heavy clashes and artillery shelling in the Jolan and Jumhuriya neighborhood, along the central highway.
Dead bodies lay on the streets of Jumhuriya, with dogs hovering around them, witnesses said. Residents said they were running out of food in a city that had its electricity cut two days ago.
The speed of the U.S.-Iraqi advance in the city suggested most insurgents likely fled before the assault began so they could fight elswhere, officers said Wednesday. Iraqi and U.S. commanders had been warning for weeks that they invade Fallujah to re-establish government control.
"That's probably why we've been able to move as fast as we have," said one officer from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division, who asked not to be named.
Fallujah's defenses have crumbled faster than U.S. commanders expected, With their command networks broken down, bands of three to five guerrillas were left fighting for self-preservation rather than as part of a larger force, officials said.
About 100 men, women and children made their way to American positions in the south of the city and gave themselves up Wednesday, an officer from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division said.