U.S. military officials in Iraq say some Marine units are preparing to pull back from positions in the strife-ridden city of Fallujah, to coincide with the arrival of Iraqi security forces commanded by former officers of Saddam Hussein's disbanded army. U.S. warplanes mounted strikes in Fallujah for a third consecutive day as 10 U.S. servicemen were killed elsewhere in the country.
U.S. military officials deny that any full-scale withdrawal of Marines from Fallujah is under way. Rather, they say U.S. forces are being "repositioned" in and around Fallujah to allow Iraqi security forces to assume a lead role in efforts to quell an uprising provoked by an estimated one-to-two thousand die-hard insurgents.
Saib al-Gilani is one of several intermediaries who have overseen tenuous negotiations between U.S. forces and the insurgents that, at one point, yielded a fragile ceasefire.
"We have heard that the American troops are going to withdraw their powers from Fallujah and this, if it would happen, would be a very good sign, an indicator of peaceful progress," he said. "I was a member of the first delegation that went to Fallujah for negotiations with the fighters there and with the people in Fallujah. We insisted from the beginning that peace should become a language and there is no general or popular punishment just because of a few aggressive actions from somebody."
In spite of the apparent easing of the U.S. military presence in Fallujah, U.S. warplanes continued to strike targets in the city believed to be under the control of the insurgents. Coalition forces hope to stabilize Iraq's security situation ahead of a planned June 30 transfer of power.
Elsewhere in Iraq, the death toll for U.S. troops continues to mount. Eight U.S. soldiers were killed and several others wounded in a car bombing near Baghdad Thursday, while separate attacks on U.S. convoys in Baghdad and Baquba left two other U.S. soldiers dead. The violence raised the death toll for U.S. forces in Iraq to 126 in April, the highest monthly total since the occupation began.
Meanwhile, a public opinion poll of nearly 3500 Iraqis showed most are glad that Saddam Hussein was ousted, but that many have serious misgivings about the continued presence of U.S. troops in their country. The CNN/USA Today Gallup poll showed a slim majority of 51 percent, saying that they and their families are better off now than they were before last year's U.S.-led invasion, but 57 percent said coalition forces should leave Iraq "immediately," and 58 percent did not approve of the tactics and conduct of U.S. troops.