BAGHDAD – As U.S.-led troops pressed their offensive Thursday in Fallujah, insurgents stepped up their counterattacks elsewhere in Iraq, exploding a car bomb that killed 17 people and wounded 20 in Baghdad and storming six police stations in an audacious attack in the northern city of Mosul.

The attacks came as the U.S. forces rumbled into the cramped streets of southern Fallujah, seeking to squeeze out hundreds of insurgents from their hiding places and forcing a climactic fight for control of the restive Sunni Muslim city.

With the offensive in Fallujah in its fourth day, U.S. military leaders said as many as 600 insurgents have been killed or captured.

But the all-out assault is also taking its toll on U.S. forces: 18 American soldiers have died and 178 have been wounded in the fighting since Monday, officials said. Five Iraqi soldiers have been killed, 34 wounded. Many of the injured were being flown to a U.S. military hospital in Germany for treatment.

U.S. military leaders say fierce fighting in northern sections of the city pushed insurgents southward into neighborhoods such the Shuhada District, a maze of alleyways and buildings that American troops pressed toward Thursday evening.

In apparent response to the Fallujah offensive, insurgents have unleashed a wave of attacks across Iraq in recent days, aimed at sending a strong message that even if Fallujah is lost to U.S. and Iraqi security forces, the insurgency can resurface and inflict mayhem at will elsewhere.

The violence in Mosul appeared to be part of a coordinated attack. Dozens of gunmen stormed six Iraqi police stations, looting them of weapons and ammunition and setting some of the buildings ablaze.

A battle raged in the northern city for hours between the insurgents and U.S.-led forces, and officials suggested that the city would be dangerous for some time. A Kurdish official in the city suggested that some Iraqi police had been cooperating with the insurgents.

Residents reported masked gunmen roaming the streets, setting cars on fire and waving rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

A curfew had already been imposed on Mosul after violence there Tuesday killed five people, including three members of the police force. The U.S. military said it responded to Thursday’s attacks by sending a Stryker Brigade Combat Team to help pacify the city.

In Baghdad, the midday car bomb blast on bustling Sadoun Street destroyed two buildings and gutted at least 12 cars.

Hadi Omer, a 33-year-old Iraqi police officer, said he believed the explosives, placed inside a Kia microbus, were intended for a police patrol in the vicinity.

“I heard a huge blast and saw a fire behind us,” said Omer, who suffered wounds to his head from broken glass. “It was a car bomb directed at our patrol, but it hit civilians. We’re still trying to find people under the rubble.”

Recovering at Baghdad’s Ibn al Nefis Hospital, Sami Hanon said he was in a currency exchange when the blast occurred.

“I entered the shop, then suddenly there was a huge blast that brought down the roof. Then I don’t know what happened next,” said Hanon, 34, a laborer. “Right now, I can’t feel my legs. I don’t know if I can walk again.”

Also Thursday, a car bomb exploded near the headquarters of a leading Kurdish political party in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing one bystander and injuring four others, The Associated Press reported.

The blast detonated some 100 yards from where the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, is housed, said Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin, head of the Iraqi National Guard in the city. The target was not immediately clear.

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Before the assault in Fallujah, Capt. David Gray, intelligence officer for the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment of the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division, laid out in color the challenges for the battalion’s armored vehicles: Streets colored red on the map were 15 feet wide or less. Yellow routes were two-lane streets. Green roads were boulevards.

Most of the Shuhada neighborhood was crisscrossed with red lines.

“We’re thinking there are still around 200 to 300 guys around there. That has not been addressed,” Gray said.

As the attack southward began, Marines followed a cluster of the Army’s Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Marines were on the lookout for insurgents able to hide and escape during the first big push into Fallujah, which began Monday.

“We kept going, and the enemy leaked around the sides. That’s OK,” said Lt. Col. Jim Rainey, commander of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment. Rainey said he was also concerned about Marines getting attacked from the rear with bombs hidden in roadside garbage heaps, parked cars and buildings.

“The Marines are having a tough fight; I don’t want them to have a catastrophic fight,” Rainey said. “Those roadside bombs, car bombs, (improvised explosive devices) in 55-gallon drums, those kids can’t see that. So pound those roads.”

Addressing his soldiers before launching the attack, Rainey urged them to protect civilian lives but give no quarter to insurgents.

“Given those constraints, kill everything that you can kill,” he said.

The U.S. military has said that as many as 3,000 insurgents may have been holed up in Fallujah before the start of the offensive. Some analysts caution that many of those insurgents, including Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, probably fled Fallujah well before the offensive began.

Speaking on NBC’s “Today” show, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged that many insurgents may have slipped away and blended into Iraqi society, only to wreak havoc elsewhere in the country.

“That’s the nature of an insurgency,” Myers said. “You know, where people can fight one minute and then blend into the surroundings the next minute… If anybody thinks that Fallujah is going to be the end of the insurgency in Iraq, that was never the objective, never our intention and even never our hope.”

Myers added that he believed the offensive in Fallujah is on track.

“It’s not working at all for the insurgents,” Myers said. “We’re exactly on plan. The insurgents are paying a heavy price for their resistance.”



Alex Rodriguez reported from Baghdad, with James Janega from Fallujah. Yasser Yasin in Baghdad contributed to this report.



(c) 2004, Chicago Tribune.

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PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): usiraq

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): usiraq

AP-NY-11-11-04 1950EST



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