FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) — U.S. Marines battled insurgents for
control of this Sunni Muslim stronghold yesterday, calling in
airstrikes against a mosque compound where witnesses said dozens
were killed in six hours of fighting. An anti-U.S. uprising led by
a radical Shiite cleric raged for the fourth day in southern
cities.

The Abdel-Aziz al-Samarrai mosque was hit by U.S. aircraft that
launched a Hellfire missile at its minaret and dropped a 500-pound
bomb on a wall surrounding the compound.

The U.S. military said insurgents were using the mosque for a
military fire base. U.S. officials said no civilians died and
American commanders gave conflicting reports of insurgent
casualties.

An Associated Press reporter who went to the mosque said the
minaret was standing, but damaged, apparently by shrapnel. The bomb
blew away part of a wall, opening an entry for the Marine assault.
The reporter saw at least three cars leaving, each with a number of
dead and wounded.

The heavy fighting against the Sunni insurgency coincided again
yesterday with attacks on coalition forces in southern Iraq led by
militiamen loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. For the
first time yesteday, Shiite militiamen battled Americans in the
central city of Baqouba.

Since Sunday, 35 Americans, two other coalition soldiers and
more than 230 Iraqis have been killed in fighting. The Iraqi figure
did not include those killed at the mosque. Since the war began, at
least 630 U.S. service members have died.

Marine Corps spokesman 1st Lt. Eric Knapp said the American
force besieging Fallujah has killed more than 30 suspected
insurgents and captured 51 since Tuesday night. Fifteen Marines
were reported killed in fighting in Fallujah and neighboring Ramadi
since Monday.

The Army said a soldier died yesterday in the capital.

The Army said a soldier died yesterday in the capital. Another
had died Tuesday in Balad, the Sunni Triangle city north of
Baghdad, the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon news conference
with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers, discounted
the strength of the al-Sadr force, which appears to have been
bolstered by disgruntled, unemployed young men.

U.S. officials estimate the al-Sadr force at about 3,000
fighters.

“The number of people involved in those battles is
relatively small,” Rumsfeld said. “There’s
nothing like an army or large elements of people trying to change
the situation. You have a small number of terrorists and militias
coupled with some protests.”

Myers said the fighting came in two broad categories. West of
Baghdad in cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah, the main opposition
is “former regime loyalists,” including supporters of
former president Saddam Hussein, and anti-American foreign fighters
loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born terrorist believed
linked to al-Qaida.

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