US-led forces appear to have launched their final assault on Iraq’s flashpoint city of Falluja. They were joined by Iraqi troops, who seized control of the rebel stronghold’s main hospital. Little resistance was encountered there, but elsewhere in Falluja fierce fighting was reported as US Marines took up positions. The Americans are said to have taken control of two key bridges southwest of the city.
The US military says up to 6,000 insurgents are holed up in Falluja, some loyal to ousted president Saddam Hussein, others waging a guerrilla war on behalf of al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. US warplanes pounded the city as ground troops moved into action. It comes after Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi declared a 60-day state of emergency in all areas other than Kurdish-run parts of the north. Amid increasing violence, he is anxious to stabilize the country before elections scheduled for the end of January. But the rebels are not prepared to give up Falluja without a fight and US commanders have warned their troops to expect the most brutal urban combat since the Vietnam War.