- FALLUJAH, Iraq - U.S. Marines
battled insurgents in Fallujah on Thursday with warplanes dropping bombs
and tanks shelling suspected guerrilla positions, causing deaths on both
sides, as the first 200 residents returned to the battered city.
- The fighting comes as the U.S. military began re-examining
security measures at bases across Iraq. On Wednesday, top Pentagon officials
admitted that an attack that killed 22 people - mostly Americans - at a
camp near Mosul was likely carried out by a suicide bomber who infiltrated
the camp's dining tent as soldiers ate lunch.
- In Fallujah, U.S. F-18 fighter-bombers were seen striking
at targets in the city's outskirts. Tank and artillery fire was also heard.
- Officials said U.S. Marines were killed but would not
specify the number. Several insurgents were also killed, they said.
- Authorities had planned on Thursday to allow the return
of 2,000 residents - the first wave of tens of thousands who want to come
back after being displaced by last month's bloody U.S.-led offensive to
retake the rebel stronghold. But by the afternoon, only about 200 actually
made the trip, some on foot, officials said Thursday.
- Officials said the slow start was probably because people
didn't know they were allowed in. More were expected after weekly Muslim
prayers on Friday.
- "Most of them get their information from the mosques
so we think that tomorrow they'll get the word out more," said Lt.
Col. Kevin Hansen, the Fallujah operations officer with the Marines' 4th
Civil Affairs unit.
- U.S. officials have hailed the military offensive to
retake Fallujah in November as a major tactical victory. But many of the
guerrillas are believed to have slipped out during the fighting and are
now said to be operating across central and northern Iraq, fueling an increase
in violence there.
- The return of residents to the city - once with a population
of 250,000 people - is a key part of attempts to restore and rebuild Fallujah.
But while U.S. and Iraqi authorities organize the return, American troops
have repeated clashed with pockets of resistance in the city. Only people
in a small neighborhood called Andalus, a generally commercial district,
were allowed to return on Thursday.