NAJAF, Iraq (AP) — Insurgents and rebellious Shiites
mounted a string of attacks across Iraq’s south and U.S.
Marines launched a major assault on the turbulent city of Fallujah
yesterday. Up to a dozen Marines, two more coalition soldiers and
at least 66 Iraqis were reported killed.

Reports from the city of Ramadi, near Fallujah, said dozens of
Iraqis attacked a Marine position near the governor’s palace,
a senior defense official said from Washington. “A
significant number” of Marines were killed, and initial
reports indicate it may be up to a dozen, said the official,
speaking on condition of anonymity.

U.S. authorities also launched a crackdown on radical Shiite
cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia after a series of weekend
uprisings in Baghdad and cities and towns to the south that took a
heavy toll in both American and Iraqi lives. The fighting marks the
first major outbreak of violence between the U.S.-led occupation
force and the Shiites since Baghdad fell a year ago.

Two more coalition soldiers — an American in Baghdad and a
Ukrainian in Kut — were killed in fighting. The deaths
brought the three-day total to up to about 30 Americans and 136
Iraqis killed in the worst fighting since the war that toppled
Saddam Hussein.

In the Ramadi fighting, heavy casualties were inflicted on the
insurgents as well, officials said. It was not immediately known
who the attackers were, nor whether the attack was related to
fighting under way in nearby Fallujah.

On the Fallujah front, Marines drove into the center of the
Sunni city in heavy fighting and then pulled back before nightfall.
The assault had been promised after the brutal killings and
mutilations of four American civilians there last week. Hospital
officials said eight Iraqis died yesterday and 20 were wounded,
including women and children.

U.S. warplanes firing rockets destroyed four houses in Fallujah
after nightfall yesterday, witnesses said. A doctor said 26 Iraqis,
including women and children, were killed and 30 wounded in the
strike. The deaths brought to 34 the number of Iraqis killed in
Fallujah yesterday, including eight who died in street battles
earlier in the day.

The dusty, Euphrates River city 35 miles west of Baghdad is a
stronghold of the anti-U.S. insurgency that sprang up shortly after
Saddam’s ouster a year ago.

With fighting intensifying ahead of the June 30 handover of
power to an Iraqi government, Secretary of Defense Donald H.
Rumsfeld said American commanders in Iraq would get additional
troops if needed. None has asked so far, he said.

State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said al-Sadr and
his followers were not representative of a religious cause but of
“political gangsterism.”

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