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US Marines Poised to Resume Assault on Fallujah - 2004-04-22

More American Marines have moved to the outskirts of the Iraqi town of Fallujah where military commanders are again warning they are poised to resume an assault on the city if Sunni militants there do not comply with an agreement to begin handing in heavy weapons.

Hundreds of additional Marines are repositioning closer to Fallujah, where 1,200 of them have already been coming under more attacks.

The U.S. military said 36 more insurgents have been killed in battles with Marines in the past 24 hours, after Marines came under small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire. The coalition said that Fallujah mosques have also been heard blaring messages telling Fallujans to rise up and fight.

Under an agreement worked out earlier this week, militants were supposed to hand in their weapons in exchange for Marines allowing residents to return to their homes and for relief aid to get into the city, but U.S. Army General Mark Kimmitt said that insurgents have so far turned in only a small cache of rusted or spent ammunition and unusable guns.

"These types of weapons are not a serious demonstration that they want peace," he said. "A large field full of the heavy weapons that have been used against the people in Fallujah and used against the coalition forces in Fallujah, that's the minimum."

On the outskirts of the city, a top U.S. general told reporters that insurgents have only a matter of days before Marines storm the Sunni stronghold, scene of some of the fiercest street fighting in Iraq over the past year and where four American contractors were ambushed, their bodies desecrated by angry mobs last month.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials in Baghdad are changing course, saying they will now allow former officers in the Iraqi military who were also members of Saddam Hussein's Baath party to hold positions in the country's new security forces.

"There is going to be a need for high ranking officers," General Kimmitt explained. "You're going to need generals, you're going to need full colonels, you're going to need senior officers."

A coalition spokesman said that accommodations are being made for capable Baath party members who are innocent of Saddam-era crimes to serve in such positions. After the fall of Baghdad a year ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said such people would not be allowed to hold positions of authority. Efforts to train Iraqi recruits to serve in the newly constituted police and security forces have proved a disappointment, with some abandoning duty during periods of unrest, while others have joined with insurgents.