Unrest continues as US prepares Fallujah assault

05 November 2004
The security situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate in early November, as militant groups stepped up their campaign with a spate of attacks against coalition personnel, civilians and oil infrastructure. In an effort to stem the insurgency before the planned elections in January, US troops gathered outside Fallujah in preparation for an assault against the town and neighbouring Ramadi.

Baghdad's deputy governor Hatem Khamel Abdul Fatah was killed on 1 November in an armed ambush on his car, on the same day as five Iraqis were killed and several wounded in an attack on a military convoy in Mosul. The blast was believed to be an assassination attempt on special taskforce commander Major General Rashid Feleih. A day later, a car bomb outside the Education Ministry in the mainly Sunni Al-Adamia district of Baghdad killed at least eight people and wounded several others.

On 3 November, gunmen killed senior Oil Ministry official Hussain Ali al-Fattal in the Yarmuk district of western Baghdad.

In a video released by the captors of British aid worker Margaret Hassan, shown in part by Arabic satellite TV station Al-Jazeera, the group threatened to hand the hostage, held since mid-October, over to the militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi if UK troops did not withdraw from Iraq within 48 hours. As MEED went to press, there was no word as to whether the threat had been carried out, but the British government has maintained its stance on refusing to negotiate with kidnappers. Jordanian-born Zarqawi has already taken responsibility for the beheading of several foreigners, including Briton Ken Bigley.

Three Iraqi guardsmen were beheaded in Baghdad in early November by the militant group Brigades of Iraq's Honourable People, as evidenced by video footage also received by Al-Jazeera. Five further foreigners, including two Americans, were also captured in Mansour.

The eve of the US elections witnessed the biggest attacks yet on oil infrastructure. Four pipelines were blown up by insurgents in the north, halting most exports via Turkey and sharply reducing crude supplies to Iraq's largest refinery at Baiji. Oil exports are not expected to resume for 10 days, as fires rage around major oil wells near Kirkuk.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials have conceded that the insurgency has become more widespread and sophisticated than was anticipated. In an effort to boost troop numbers and retain expertise, 6,500 US troops have had their tour of duty extended by one-two months, and Pentagon officials have indicated there may be up to 142,000 US troops in Iraq by January.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has warned Fallujah that it faces military assault if it does not give up the foreign fighters believed to be sheltering in the city. Although Interim Iraq President Ghazi Yawar has voiced his opposition to a military solution to the stand-off, and Allawi is yet to give a public go-ahead, US bombardment of thecity has already begun. Plane and tank attacks in the early hours of 4 November killed five people and, according to the US military, destroyed 'fighting barricades' in the northeast and southeast of the city. Most of the city's 300,000 civilian population have already fled.

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