Some ten US and two Iraqi soldiers have died in the initial push into central Falluja, with around 10,000 American and 2,000 Iraqi troops due to enlarge their hold of the city this morning. The US commander predicts “several more days of tough urban fighting” but negatives are already counting against the advances on the ground. Politically, the Sunni Muslim Clerics’ Association has called for a boycott of the January parliamentary elections, in part prompted by the destruction in the flashpoint Iraqi city.
Militarily, the Americans admit militant leaders they had hoped to snare have probably escaped. The northern third of the city is now reportedly in the government’s hands, after a double thrust into the north-western sector and a push from west to east along the main cross-town road. However, the boycott call is a bad blow, as the second main reason for grasping the Falluja nettle again was to secure it for peaceful elections. The situation will be made worse if civilian casualties are heavy.