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Violence mounts along with U.S. toll in Fallujah

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA, DEC. 2. Seventy-one American troops have been killed so far in the U.S. assault on Fallujah amid continuing violence, which today saw Iraqi guerillas firing a barrage of mortars targeting the well-fortified U.S. headquarters as well as at other locations in Baghdad.

The deaths resulting from the Fallujah offensive make up more than half of the total number of U.S. fatalities in Iraq during November, the second-deadliest month of the 20-month war.

In November, 134 U.S. troops have died in Iraq in November, one less than the record number of casualties in April 2004. "Fighting in urban terrain is difficult and very dangerous, more so than an open-terrain type of combat," Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, the U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said. Thousands of American troops had stormed into Fallujah three weeks ago.

Attack on Green Zone

The all-out assault was meant to smash the epicentre of resistance in Iraq, ahead of the January elections. The U.S. military has claimed that an estimated 1,200 to 1,600 guerillas have been killed in the offensive, but there have been reports of unusually high civilian casualties resulting from the combined air and ground assault.

Some of the mortars fired by guerillas on Thursday landed inside the Green Zone, the fortified compound on the west bank of the Tigris where the U.S. and British embassies are located. A rocket attack on the Green Zone last month had killed four Nepalese employees of a British security company.

Explosions also shook an area outside the main commercial office of a mobile phone firm, resulting in the death of an Iraqi. Nine persons were also wounded in the attack.

No let-up in fighting

Meanwhile, the cities of Mosul and Samarra, where the U.S. had launched a major assault prior to its offensive in Fallujah, continued to remain restive. U.S. troops on Wednesday fought a half-hour gun battle with Iraqi fighters in Mosul, resulting in injury to one American soldier. Guerillas also clashed with U.S. troops in Samarra, and wounded three U.S.-trained Iraqi soldiers and two civilians.

While there was no let-up in fighting, preparations for next month's elections are under way. Iraq's majority Shias, under the stewardship of their top spiritual leader, Ali Sistani, are preparing a single list of candidates who would contest the 275-strong Iraqi Assembly.

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