U.S. jets pounded parts of Fallujah on Thursday, targeting insurgents in a city where American forces were said to be gearing up for a major offensive.
CBS News Correspondent Charlie D'Agata reports this is not the opening salvo to the full-scale invasion of the city that U.S. and Iraqi forces have been preparing for, but more of an attempt to break down insurgent strongholds which the military calls "known barricaded fighting positions."
But the intensity of the bombardment may signal that main push may not be far off.
Al-Jazeera television broadcast a threat by an unspecified armed group to strike oil installations and government buildings if Americans launch an all-out assault on Fallujah. The report was accompanied by a videotape showing about 20 armed men brandishing various weapons including a truck-mounted machine gun.
Gunmen kidnapped a Lebanese-American businessman — the second U.S. citizen seized this week in Baghdad — and videotape Wednesday showed the beheadings of three Iraqi National Guardsmen and an Iraqi officer.
Early Thursday, U.S. aircraft fired on several barricaded rebel positions in northeast and southeastern Fallujah, the military said.
U.S. and rebels forces also clashed overnight on the southeastern outskirts of the city after insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Marines. Two insurgents were killed while no U.S. casualties were reported, said Lt. Nathan Braden, of 1st Marine Division. Hospital officials in Fallujah reported three civilians were injured in the overnight shelling.
U.S. forces have been preparing for a major offensive in Fallujah, west of Baghdad, and other Sunni militant strongholds in hopes of curbing the insurgency ahead of January's election.
In other developments:
Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi made the comment after meeting in Rome with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi.
Iskandiriyah Hospital officials said three people had been killed and a total of 15 others injured, including the guardsmen.
The violence served as a grim reminder of Iraq's rapidly deteriorating security situation, which President Bush must address now that he has won his long electoral contest against Sen. John Kerry.
Radim Sadeq, an American of Lebanese origin who worked for a mobile phone company, was grabbed about midnight Tuesday when he answered the door of his home in Baghdad's upscale Mansour neighborhood, officials said. No group claimed responsibility.
It was the second abduction this week in Mansour, where many foreign companies are based. On Monday, gunmen stormed the two-story compound of a Saudi company, abducting six people, including an unidentified American, a Nepalese, a Filipino and three Iraqis, two of whom were later released. No claim has been made for the kidnappings.
More than 170 foreigners have been kidnapped and more than 30 of them killed in Iraq since Saddam Hussein's regime fell in April last year. At least six of the foreigners were beheaded by followers of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant who has sworn allegiance to al Qaeda.
As the wave of abductions continues, another militant group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, posted a videotape on a Web site Wednesday showing the beheading of man it said was an Iraqi army major captured in the northern city of Mosul.
A statement by the group called Maj. Hussein Shanoun an "apostate" and said he confessed to taking part in attacks against insurgents on orders of the Americans.
Just before his death, the victim was shown warning Iraqi soldiers and police against "dealing with the infidel troops," meaning the Americans.
In another video, aired Wednesday on Al-Jazeera, a previously unknown group calling itself the Brigades of Iraq's Honorables said it beheaded three Iraqi National Guardsmen, accusing them of spying for the Americans.
Insurgents have stepped up attacks on Iraq's U.S.-trained security forces, who the Americans hope will assume greater responsibility to enable Washington to begin drawing down its forces — now at their highest levels since the summer of 2003.
More than 85 percent of the estimated 165,700 multinational troops in Iraq are Americans, despite U.S. efforts to encourage other countries to share the burden of securing and rebuilding Iraq.