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US Launches Air Strikes on Suspected Terrorists in Fallujah - 2004-07-18

Iraqi officials say at least 12 people were killed during U.S. air strikes against suspected terrorist targets in Fallujah, west of Baghdad. The early morning attacks occurred during a visit to Baghdad by a senior State Department official.

The air strikes occurred on what U.S. military officials said was a suspected terrorist hideout in Fallujah.

The attack followed Thursday's promise by Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi to "annihilate" terrorist groups in Iraq.

The bombing also followed a failed assassination attempt Saturday on Iraq's interim justice minister, Malik Dohan al-Hassan. A group linked to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attack that left four people dead in Baghdad.

There is a $25 million reward being offered for Mr. al-Zarqawi, who is wanted in connection with a series of car-bomb attacks and beheadings in Iraq.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage held meetings in Baghdad with senior Iraqi officials. During a news conference, Mr. Armitage said the United States fully supports Iraq's announced plans to open embassies in 43 countries.

"The message here for the United States is quite simple. You have a sovereign government in Iraq. Our job is to support that government to the absolute extent we can. We are going to do it," he said. "We are committed to it. Even such things as your announcement tomorrow of your new ambassadors to 43 countries is the type of thing that gives us the enthusiasm that Iraqis are making a decision, [that] they are going to have a future, and they are going to be involved in all the meaningful activities in the world."

Mr. Armitage is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Iraq since the turnover of sovereignty to Iraq's interim government.

In the meantime, while the fate of Filipino hostage Angelo de la Cruz remains unknown, the remaining members of the Philippines 51-person peacekeeping contingent in Iraq will reportedly leave the country Monday and head for Kuwait.

The Philippine government decided to withdraw its peacekeeping contingent, following threats by the hostage takers to behead the 46-year-old truck driver, who was kidnapped last week, unless all Filipino troops left the country.

Iraq's foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said Iraq deeply regretted the Philippine decision, and said it set a bad precedent. He said, "terrorists should not be rewarded."

Deputy Secretary of State Armitage said, while the United States regretted the decision, it would continue relations with Manila.