American forces bottled up guerrillas in a narrow strip of Fallujah's alleys and streets Wednesday after a stunningly swift advance that seized control of 70 percent of the insurgent stronghold. In Baghdad, kidnappers abducted three members of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's family, the government said.
An advisor to the Iraqi prime minister tells CBS News that six to eight kidnappers abducted the Allawi relatives as they walked out of their garage.
A militant group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad claimed in a Web posting to have carried out the kidnapping and threatened to behead the hostages within 48 hours unless the siege of Fallujah was lifted and prisoners were freed. The claim's authenticity could not immediately be verified.
Armed men snatched one of the prime minister's cousin, Ghazi Allawi, the cousin's wife, and the cousin's daughter-in-law from their home in Baghdad's western Yarmouk neighborhood Tuesday night, government spokesman Thair al-Naqeeb said. Al-Naqeeb said earlier Wednesday that gunmen had kidnapped only two Allawi relatives.
In its Web posting Ansar al-Jihad said: "We promise Allah and his messenger that if the agent government doesn't respond to our demands within 48 hours, they (the hostages) will be beheaded."
Insurgents have been trying to open a "second front" with a wave of attacks to divert U.S. forces from their offensive in Fallujah.
In other developments:
In Fallujah, the military said U.S. troops pushed insurgents into a section of the city flanking the main east-west highway that bisects the rebel bastion. At least 71 militants had been killed as of the beginning of the third day of intense urban combat, the military said, with the casualty figure expected to rise sharply once U.S. forces account for Iraqis and foreign fighters killed in airstrikes.
As of Tuesday night, 10 U.S. troops and two members of the Iraqi security force had been killed, a toll that already equaled the number of American troops who died when Marines besieged the city for three weeks in April.
Major Francis Piccoli, of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, characterized fighting overnight as "light to moderate" and said U.S. casualties were "extremely light."
Piccoli said U.S. forces that pushed south through Fallujah's central highway overnight now control 70 percent of the city. He said troops would move on Wednesday into the strip of territory where guerrillas were bottled up. "The heart of the city is what's in focus now," he said.
The northwestern neighborhood of Jolan, the historic warren of crooked streets where Sunni militants and foreign fighters had rigged boobytraps, was now "secured and under control," he said, although Marines were expected to continue house-to-house searches for fighters and weapons.
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.
Most of Fallujah's 200,000 to 300,000 residents are believed to have fled the city before the U.S. assault. Civilian casualties in the attack are not known, though U.S. commanders say they believe they are low. Officers on Tuesday said few civilians have tried to leave during the fighting, though a funeral procession was allowed to exit the city.
Marine reports Wednesday said 25 American troops and 16 Iraqi soldiers were wounded.
Despite resistance being lighter than expected, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday he still predicted "several more days of tough urban fighting" as insurgents fell back toward the southern end of the city, perhaps for a last stand.
"I'm surprised how quickly (resistance) broke and how quickly they ran away, a force of foreign fighters who were supposed to fight to the death," Lt. Col. Pete Newell, a battalion commander in the 1st Infantry Division, told CNN.
The U.S. advance in Fallujah was more rapid than in April, when insurgents fought a force of fewer than 2,000 Marines to a standstill in a three-week siege. It ended with the Americans handing over the city to a local force, which lost control to Islamic militants.
This time, the U.S. military has sent up to 15,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops into the battle, backed by tanks, artillery and attack aircraft.
"The enemy is fighting hard but not to the death," Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, the multinational ground force commander in Iraq, told a Pentagon news conference relayed by video from Iraq. "There is not a sense that he is staying in particular places. He is continuing to fall back or he dies in those positions."
Metz said Iraqi soldiers searched several mosques Tuesday and found "lots of munitions and weapons."
Although capturing or killing the senior insurgent leadership is a goal of the operation, Metz said he believed the most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had escaped Fallujah.