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US Faces Another Deadly Day of Violence in Iraq - 2004-04-26

At least three more American soldiers have died in a day of violence across Iraq Monday. After weeks of battles with Iraqi insurgents, U.S. military commanders are strongly suggesting that Sunni and Shiite rebels in two towns may soon face a full assault by coalition forces.

Marines opened fire on rebel targets in Fallujah. At least one American soldier and eight Iraqi fighters were killed in what reporters in the town describe as several hours of intense fighting, accompanied by helicopter air strikes on Sunni rebel targets.

Reporter Carl Penhall, attached to the U.S. Marines, explains what he saw from a building where U.S. forces took cover. "Insurgent gunmen opened fire on the Marine platoon with rockets, with mortars and with automatic weapons fire," he said. "Mortar rounds were exploding all around that building. The Marines held on in those buildings, fighting back and firing back."

In Baghdad, U.S. Army General Mark Kimmitt calls this latest breach of a supposed Fallujah ceasefire evidence that Sunni fighters have not lived up to their side of the truce by turning in heavy weapons.

"Clearly, the amount of weapons that have been turned in come nowhere approximating the amount of weapons that are inside of Fallujah," he said.

And civilians have again been caught up in the crossfire, including one man who says he and his neighbors are not rebels but were still targeted by rockets fired from American helicopters.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested one last chance would be given to see if Fallujah's tribal leaders can persuade people he called "armed thugs" to lay down their arms.

"We will take the time necessary to see if there is not a political solution but as you saw today, when our soldiers and our Marines are attacked, they will respond," he said.

Another flashpoint is in southern Iraq, in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, where rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has been holding out along with thousands of militiamen in a revolt against the U.S.-led military occupation. Reports say heavy gunfire broke out Monday between al-Sadr fighters and coalition forces on the outskirts of the city - just hours after coalition spokesman Dan Senor issued a new warning to rebel militias in Najaf to stop using Shiite holy shrines as weapons depots.

"Weapons must be removed from places of worship immediately," he said. "We will not tolerate it."

In Baghdad, two coalition soldiers were killed Monday when a building they were searching for suspected chemical munitions exploded. The U.S. military is not confirming reports that the troops conducting the search were part of the Iraq Survey Group, the Pentagon team that has been looking for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which have yet to be found.