U.S. forces have launched a massive new operation against insurgents in the Iraqi town of Fallujah after a wave of attacks Thursday left at least 15 people dead.
U.S. military officials say two battalions are in Fallujah and warplanes are pounding insurgents. The operation comes after days of stepped up airstrikes on the city. On Thursday, U.S. forces struck buildings used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network, killing five people.
Also Thursday, Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad group set off two bombs in Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses U.S, British and Iraqi offices. The U.S. military says five people, including three American civilians, died in those blasts.
And in separate incidents in Baghdad, two explosions, believed caused by hand-carried bombs, rocked the so-called Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad. The U.S. military says five people were killed and more than 20 others were wounded. The terror network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has claimed responsibility.
The attacks were part of a widespread spike in violence that followed an ultimatum from Iraq's interim prime minister, who demanded that Mr. al-Zarqawi be handed over to the authorities by the people who are believed to be sheltering him in the town of Fallujah.
Thick, black smoke could be seen billowing from inside the so-called Green Zone, following two deadly explosions.
The U.S. military said one of the blasts occurred at an outdoor bazaar; the second explosion took place inside a café where it is believed the blast was caused by a suicide bomber.
The Green Zone, among other things, houses most of the offices of the Iraqi interim government, and the embassies of the United States and Britain. Consequently, it is a highly regarded target among insurgents.
While it is the mostly heavily protected area in Baghdad, it has repeatedly been attacked with rockets, mortars, and car bombs. But most of the attacks have not produced fatalities. This was believed to be the first time bombs were smuggled into the Green Zone and deteonated, and raises serious questions about security in the area.
Last week, a planted bomb was discovered inside the Green Zone. That bomb was safely defused.
Elsewhere, a female journalist working for a Kurdish-owned television station and an Iraqi judge were killed in separate drive-by shootings in northern Baghdad, and two members of the Iraqi National Guard were killed in a drive-by shooting north of the city in the town of Baquba. Meanwhile, a U.S. soldier was killed and two other people were injured when a roadside bomb detonated in eastern Baghdad.
Earlier, at least eight Iraqis were killed and more than a dozen others were wounded west of Baghdad in the city of Ramadi. And a videotape showing the beheading of a Turkish driver was released to the news media. The man's captors said he was decapitated because he worked for Americans.
The violence comes on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and one day after Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi issued an ultimatum to the citizens of Fallujah, west of Baghdad. He said they must hand over wanted militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, or face certain military action.
Reaction among Iraqis from various walks off life, was unanimously in support of Mr. Allawi's ultimatum
Shiite cleric Al-Haj Abass Khadim.
The cleric said that if it is proved al-Zarqawi is "the head of the snake," then he fully supports Mr. Allawi's position. He said if the head of the snake is removed, the situation in Iraq will become more stable.
In Baghdad, carpet dealer Hafood al-Zawaidi said he agrees.
Mr. al-Zawaidi added that he believes al-Zarqawi and his followers are criminals and deserve to be driven out of Iraq. He said anyone who cuts off the head of another man is not a human being. Therefore, he said the militants should vanish from Iraq.
Baghdad merchant Hassan Abu Saheb.
Mr. Saheb said that the prime minister is correct because Iraqis are looking for peace and stability. He says if al-Zarqawi is driven from Iraq, the country will be able to achieve peace
A senior official with Iraq's interim Interior Ministry says the prime minister is "dead serious." The official said any military action in Fallujah would be "extremely intense and intended to wipe out any and all militants in the city."