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Iraq force to replace U.S. Marines

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA, APRIL 29. Failing to disarm and silence Iraqi guerillas in Fallujah despite heavy bombardment, U.S. authorities have decided to hand over the security of the restive Sunni stronghold to a force of former Iraqi war veterans that served in the army of the former President, Saddam Hussein.

The 900-to-1000 strong "Fallujah Protection Army" is expected to relieve most of the U.S. soldiers (Marines) that are currently besieging Fallujah, in a phased manner. The entire exercise is expected to be completed in several weeks, but implementation will begin on Friday, the U.S. military command said. The Fallujah plan, which is a product of three days of brainstorming involving U.S. commanders and former Iraqi officers, does not envisage a ceasefire.

The new force will take over the cordon around Fallujah from U.S. troops and use force to subdue guerillas, if required.

10 soldiers killed

Meanwhile, 10 U.S. soldiers were killed today, with eight dying in a car bomb explosion in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. The attack also wounded four troops.

A few hours earlier, a rocket-propelled grenade killed a U.S. soldier in eastern Baghdad, while another died in Baqubah, north of Baghdad. With these deaths, a total of 737 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the U.S. invaded Iraq. American deaths in April alone have risen to 126.

Faced with the heavy casualties, the U.S. has reversed its earlier decision to deploy lighter and more mobile forces to counter the Iraqi resistance. The Pentagon is now sending dozens of main battle tanks and other armoured vehicles to protect its troops better.

U.S. military sources were quoted as saying that the new Iraqi force would report to Lt. Gen. James P. Conway, the overall commander of western Iraq, including Fallujah. The decision to deploy this predominantly Sunni force follows the recent shift in the U.S. policy of re-employing former soldiers of the Ba'ath Party who did not belong to the inner circles of Mr. Hussein's regime.

Analysts point out that the U.S. decision to resurrect a part of the former Iraqi army and deploy it along the Fallujah frontline was taken because the terms of the ceasefire that were being negotiated earlier, could not be enforced.

The guerillas had refused to abide by the U.S. precondition to hand over their heavy weapons. American authorities, on their part, were wary of embarking on an all-out assault on the town as an alternative.

Apart from American casualties, it was feared that an armed incursion into Fallujah, leading to an inevitable loss of civilian lives, would have raised anti-U.S. sentiments in Iraq to unacceptably high levels.

Besides, the U.S. military was disinclined to consider giving safe passage to guerrillas entrenched in Fallujah as a possible means to defuse the crisis.

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