After five days of fighting, U.S. and Iraqi forces are now said to be in control of nearly all of Fallujah, capturing or killing hundreds of insurgents who have used the city as a stronghold for months. But video sent back by journalists imbedded with U.S. forces there shows tough street battles continue with insurgents who also shot down a U.S. army helicopter north of Baghdad Friday.
General John Sattler, the commander of the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Fallujah, declared Friday that, as he put it, the back of the Iraqi resistance in Fallujah has now been broken. "We occupy about 80 percent of the city right now. There is still the clearing of each and every house to take away the caches of weapons and to find the stashes of ammunition," he said.
At the same time, American marines continue to come under sustained attack, including from insurgents inside schools and mosques. And gunfights have left groups of coalition forces pinned down, trying to locate snipers among the city's barren streets and bombed-out buildings.
But in areas of the city that have been secured, Iraq's interim government is preparing to move in with the first distributions of humanitarian aid. With the Iraqi Red Crescent describing the situation in the city as a disaster, Iraqi government spokesman Thair al-Nakib says the relief operation could begin as early as Saturday.
"We already sent 14 trucks yesterday, very well equipped with medicine and humanitarian stuff in it. And I believe if the generals over here will give us the green light tomorrow, we will be ready," he said.
However, as U.S. and Iraqi forces consolidate their hold on Fallujah, rebels are stepping up attacks in other parts of the country.
Even so, at a news conference Friday with visiting British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bush held firm to plans for Iraqi elections in January, while warning the violence could get worse before then. "As those elections draw near, the desperation of the killers will grow, and the violence could escalate. Success of democracy in Iraq will be a crushing blow to the forces of terror and the terrorists know it," he said.
There was concern Friday that the security situation in northern Iraq could be deteriorating, as well. Iraqi and coalition reinforcements have been dispatched to the city of Mosul, after insurgents there overwhelmed Iraqi security forces, attacking government offices and police stations.