U.S. coalition officials in Iraq say they are maintaining a cease-fire in the town of Fallujah, while an Iraqi team attempts to negotiate with armed fighters.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt says another Marine battalion has moved into Fallujah to bolster the two Marine battalions already on the ground, as well as an Iraqi defense corps.
He said that U.S. forces are continuing to halt offensive operations in Fallujah, but rebels have not heeded the coalition's request for a bilateral cease-fire.
"The Marines are still receiving small arms fire, indirect fire attacks from mortar, and, as and when necessary, they are responding," he said.
Earlier Saturday, a delegation of Iraqi leaders began attempts to negotiate with tribal and religious leaders in Fallujah. The representatives are trying to convince local leaders to hand over the people responsible for the grisly murder and mutilation of four American civilian contractors last month. In exchange, coalition forces would end their major military offensive in the Sunni Arab stronghold.
General Kimmitt said the newly bolstered U.S. forces are in strategic position and are prepared to continue the attack, if negotiations are not successful.
"With regards to the enemy activities, there could be any number of reasons why they have chosen to continue to fight," said General Kimmitt. "It may be a communications problem that we have not gotten the message out to the leadership. It may be that there is no leadership there, but small clusters that haven't gotten the word. It may be that they have chosen to fight. If it is the latter, that is probably the wrong decision to be making."
The U.S. Marines launched an attack on Fallujah six days ago, in response to the murder of the four American men, whose bodies were burned and torn apart by cheering mobs. Intense fighting has since killed hundreds of Iraqis and some 40 U.S. troops.
Meanwhile, sporadic clashes continue in other parts of southern and central Iraq. In Karbala, in central Iraq, leaders of a militia loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr say they will observe a cease-fire in the holy city to allow pilgrims to observe the Shi'ite religious occasion of Arbaeen.
Iraqi fighters in different parts of the country claim to have taken a number of foreigners hostage, including two Germans, one Briton, and three Japanese.
And, Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, made a surprise visit Saturday to Italian troops based in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah, where 19 soldiers were killed in a suicide attack last November.