Unrest Spreads To Southern Iraq

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As U.S. forces continued to bombard the restive city of Fallujah and clashed with militants in the streets of Baghdad, there was unrest in the normally quiet British-patrolled city of Basra. Gunmen paraded in another town.

American forces unleashed a strike Tuesday against a suspected hide-out used by associates of terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Fallujah. Iraqi interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi warned that a "decisive military solution" could soon befall the rebel stronghold if a political one is not found.

Meanwhile, in Samarra, gunmen carrying flags of Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad organization surfaced in force Tuesday for the first time since U.S. troops briefly entered it in a deal brokered with tribal leaders.

In Baghdad, American troops and insurgents clashed Tuesday along central Baghdad's Haifa Street, an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman said, and half a dozen explosions rocked the city. There was no immediate word on casualties. There was a report of an Iraqi killed in a U.S. strike on Sadr City.

Near the southern city of Basra, insurgents attacked a British military convoy, killing two soldiers, the Ministry of Defense in London said.

Also in Basra Tuesday, gunmen killed five members of Iraq's intelligence agency as they were returning a civilian freed from kidnappers to his family, said Maj. Jasim al-Darraji, an intelligence officer.

In other developments:

  • In other violence, a car bomb exploded in Ramadi, west of Baghdad as a U.S. military convoy was passing by, damaging one American vehicle. A Turkish truck driver has been killed in an attack near the Iraqi city of Mosul, news reports said Tuesday. Three Iraqis were wounded in an overnight mortar attack on a base housing Bulgarian troops in central Iraq.
  • Egypt said Tuesday that Iraqi kidnappers had freed one Egyptian hostage and were expected to release three others shortly. A Muslim leader from Italy arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday to press for the release of two Italian aid workers kidnapped by Islamic extremists, his organization said.
  • The U.S. military says it's holding a suspected leader of an Iraqi insurgent cell that has claimed responsibility for the beheading of 12 Nepalese hostages. Authorities have also detained an Iraqi citizen on suspicion of spying for Iran.
  • A Colorado congresswoman, Democrat Diana DeGette, is calling for an investigation into allegations that soldiers, who are near the end of their time in the military, are being threatened with deployment to Iraq unless they re-enlist.
  • The Jordanian monarch said in an interview published Tuesday that elections in Iraq are impossible because of the current chaos. The European Union will support preparations for elections in Iraq even if violence keeps the vote from taking place throughout that country, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.
  • Prime Minister Tony Blair said he realized the war in Iraq had divided Britain, but insisted he could not sincerely apologize for helping topple Saddam Hussein.

    Dozens of masked gunmen carrying automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades drove through the main streets of Samarra, north of Baghdad. They stopped some cars, asking occupants to hand over music tapes in exchange for those with recitations from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.

    Samarra has been under insurgent control and a virtual "no-go" area for U.S. troops since May 30.

    The Americans returned briefly Sept. 9 under a peace deal brokered by tribal leaders by which U.S. forces agreed to provide millions of dollars in reconstruction funds in exchange for an end to attacks on American and Iraqi troops.

    The sporadic clashes around Haifa Street in Baghdad began early Tuesday and explosions could be heard around midday in the area, spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said. He said such low-intensity fighting has occurred on the street for the past three days.

    Haifa Street, an insurgent stronghold, has been the scene of bloody car bomb attacks, raids and firefights in past weeks.

    The roadside bomb on Karrada street damaged several vehicles and shattered windows, witnesses said. The target of the attack was not immediately clear. At least six other blasts were later heard in the capital.

    Ambulances rushed to scene of the explosions and American troops cordoned off the area. Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdul-Rahman said three civilians were wounded.

    The ministry had no immediate information on the other explosions that rocked the city at noontime.

    In Fallujah, intelligence reports indicated that the militants targeted shortly after 4:00 a.m. were "rising" associates of al-Zarqawi and "planning attacks using foreign suicide bombers in vehicles rigged with explosives," the military said. The Jordanian-born militant has claimed responsibility for scores of suicide attacks and kidnappings across the country, as well as the recent beheading of two Americans

    Late Monday, U.S. warplanes were spotted over the city and explosions were heard. Residents said they saw a plane firing rockets into the city, but U.S. Marine officers said only illumination rounds were fired.

    Dr. Walid Thamer of the Fallujah General Hospital said at least three people were killed and nine wounded in the earlier attack. They arrived at the hospital around 1:00 a.m., he said. The conflicting accounts could not immediately be reconciled.

    U.S. forces have not patrolled in Fallujah since ending a three-week siege of the city in April that left hundreds dead. Military commanders say an assault may be inevitable to restore authority there ahead of nationwide elections slated for January.

    "I think we waited more than enough for Fallujah," the Iraqi leader said in an interview aired late Monday on the Arab television network Al-Arabiya. He indicated Iraqi security forces would be used in any operation against the city.

    Jordan's King Abdullah II, who was paying a brief visit to France, told the daily Le Figaro that, in his view, extremists would gain the upper hand if elections were held under the current conditions in Iraq.

    "It seems impossible to organize indisputable elections in the chaos of Iraq today," he was quoted as saying.