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U.S. Marines backed by aircraft fought insurgents in the Iraqi city of Falluja on Thursday
U.S. Marines backed by aircraft fought insurgents in the Iraqi city of Falluja on Thursday, six weeks after launching a major attack that aimed to quell revolt in the city before next month's election. Three Marines were killed in the area, a spokesman said, describing a battle for a building which was destroyed by air power after guerrillas had tried to set up a strongpoint in it. "At approximately 10:30 this morning in northern Falluja, elements of 1st Marine Division were engaged with anti-Iraqi forces," Lieutenant Lyle Gilbert said, referring to militant groups that have been fighting in Falluja for weeks, informs Reuters. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Fallujans lined up in cars and on foot at checkpoints, brandishing documents to Iraqi police to show they had the right to re-enter the city. Once inside, they returned to the remains of bombed-out and looted homes, some with bodies still inside from weeks of fighting. The return of residents is a key part of U.S.-Iraqi efforts to rebuild Fallujah after the bloody, two-week U.S. military offensive in November that wrested the city from the control of insurgents. Most of Fallujah's approximately 250,000 people fled before the assault. But the new fighting highlighted that the city is far from completely tamed. Since the offensive, Fallujah has seen sporadic clashes between U.S. troops and pockets of insurgents, and Thursday's battles were the heaviest since a surge of fighting on Dec. 10 that killed seven Marines, three Iraqi troops and about 50 insurgents. Residents said they were worried about the worsening situation in their city, which has seen a sharp upsurge of rebel activity in the past several months. "We see things going from bad to worse every day. All we need is security and peace, but I do not see this happening," Abbas Hussein, a 32-year-old carpenter, said. "I hope there will be a divine miracle so that the situation becomes stable." A radical Sunni Muslim group, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, said it carried out the suicide bombing at the US base. The attack sparked renewed concerns about the ability of US troops and their Iraqi allies to secure scheduled elections next month. Military officials said they had expected an increase in violence as insurgents attempt to derail the vote for an assembly that will draft Iraq's new constitution, reports the Guardian.
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