In Iraq, a U.S. military commander
said an agreement has been reached with leaders in the city of Fallujah that
could ease a two week standoff between Sunni militants and 1,200 American Marines
encircling the city.
U.S. Marines have kept Fallujah sealed off for two weeks as they engage in
some of the heaviest fighting in Iraq of the past year, aimed at restoring
order to the city where four American contractors were ambushed last month.
The battles have kept civilians largely confined to their homes. The toll
that the clampdown has taken on the city was in evidence Monday when this Iraqi
family, escorted by an American soldier and translator, emerged from their
home desperate for something to eat. "We are starving. There is no food," they
Now, after days of negotiations, U.S. General Mark Kimmitt said Marines have
agreed to hold their fire provided anti-coalition gunmen hand over their heavy
weapons and agree to end two weeks of intensive street battles that have reportedly
claimed the lives of hundreds of Iraqis and nearly 40 U.S. Marines. "We are trying
to use peaceful negotiations to try to bring the situation in Fallujah to an
end and it would appear by the agreed statement made today that there is an agreed
political track," he said.
However, there has been no apparent change in the on-going standoff between
U.S. forces and Shiite rebels holding out in the holy city of Najaf, where
militiamen armed with heavy weapons have the run of the streets. U.S. military
commanders have repeatedly warned that if gunmen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr do not end their rebellion, coalition forces will move in with force
and restore order.
It's in the Najaf area of south-central Iraq where Spain is about to pull
its 1300 troops out of the country, as the new government in Madrid promised
to do during last month's elections. In a telephone call with Spain's new prime
minister Monday, President Bush expressed regret over the decision. The U.S.
military says the departure of the Spanish forces will not leave a power vacuum,
but so far no country has stepped in with a sizable offer to replace them.