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U.S. Jets Pound Fallujah

U.S. Jets Pound Fallujah

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- U.S. warplanes hammered suspected militant strongholds in Fallujah on Wednesday after a suicide bombing there and a series of attacks in Baghdad pushed the number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq campaign past 1,000.

Sporadic explosions lit the sky throughout the night and several buildings were razed to the ground. A thick plume of smoke rose from the western city after American jets struck a suspected militant stronghold used to plan attacks on American forces, the military said.

Hospital officials said at least six people were killed and 11 wounded since the strikes began late Tuesday.

Residents huddled in their homes as planes repeatedly swooped over eastern and southern neighborhoods of Fallujah, a hotbed of Sunni insurgents, witnesses said.

In eastern Baghdad, insurgents detonated a roadside bomb early Wednesday that killed one U.S. solider and wounded two others, the military said. The wounded were evacuated to a combat hospital after the attack at 5:30 a.m. local time.

In other violence Wednesday, gunmen kidnapped the Anbar province's deputy governor Wednesday in the latest assault on officials connected to Iraq's interim government, the Interior Ministry said.

Wednesday's airstrikes targeted a militant "command and control headquarters that has recently been coordinating attacks" against coalition forces, the military said.

Late Tuesday, U.S. jets dropped several bombs and tank and artillery units fired rounds into the city in retaliation for militant attacks on Marine positions outside the city, said Marine spokesman Lt. Col. T.V. Johnson.

Johnson said in a statement that "significant numbers of enemy fighters (up to 100) are estimated to have been killed" by Tuesday's shelling. The claim could not be verified, and Johnson acknowledged that U.S. forces have not entered the city of Fallujah itself.

The military said it had no information about casualties from Wednesday's strikes.

U.S. forces pulled out of Fallujah after ending a three-week siege in April following the killing of four American security contractors in the city. But stiff resistance and political backlash forced the Americans to abandon the siege, and the militants emerged stronger than ever.

Fighting with Sunni and Shiite insurgents killed eight Americans in the Baghdad area on Tuesday and Wednesday, pushing the American death count to 1,004. That number includes 1,000 U.S. troops and three civilians, two working for the U.S. Army and one for the Air Force. The tally was compiled by The Associated Press based on Pentagon records and AP reporting from Iraq.

Commenting on the death toll, President Bush said Wednesday "we mourn every loss of life" and declared that the United States was making good progress in the war against terrorism.

"We're still at war," Bush said during a meeting with congressional leaders. "We've got to do everything we can to protect the homeland."

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry said the United States joined the friends and relatives of those who died in mourning their loss.

"Today marks a tragic milestone in the war in Iraq. More than one thousand of Americas sons and daughters have made the ultimate sacrifice. Our nation honors their service and joins with their families and loved ones in mourning their loss," Kerry said.

"We must never forget the price they have paid. And we must meet our sacred obligation to all our troops to do all we can to make the right decisions in Iraq so that we can bring them home as soon as possible."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld cited progress on several fronts in the Bush administration's global war on terrorism and said U.S. enemies should not underestimate the willingness of the American people and its coalition allies to suffer casualties in Iraq and elsewhere.

"The progress has prompted a backlash, in effect, from those who hope that at some point we might conclude that the pain and the cost of this fight isn't worth it," Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference. "Well, our enemies have underestimated our country, our coalition. They have failed to understand the character of our people. And they certainly misread our commander in chief."

The Bush administration has long linked the Iraq conflict to the war on terrorism. The Sept. 11 Commission, however, concluded that Iraq and al-Qaida did not have a "collaborative relationship" before the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, and some have questioned to what extent foreign terror groups are involved in the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq.

The 1,003 figure includes deaths from hostile and non-hostile causes since the United States launched the Iraq campaign in March 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein's regime. All but 138 of the U.S. deaths came after Bush's May 1, 2003 declaration of an end to major combat operations after Saddam fell.

The grim 1,000 mark was surpassed after a surge in fighting, which has killed a total 17 U.S. service members in the past four days in a spate of attacks in Baghdad and a suicide bombing near Fallujah.

The guns fell silent Wednesday in the Baghdad slum of Sadr City, however, a day after two soldiers were killed in fierce clashes with fighters loyal to rebel Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles patrolled the streets Wednesday.

The return of calm came after al-Sadr's militia announced a unilateral cease-fire but warned it would fight back in self defense.

In the abduction of the Anbar province official, gunmen opened fire on the car of Deputy Gov. Bassil Ahmed and seized him after the vehicle stopped, Interior Ministry spokesman Col. Adnan Abdel Rahman said. Ahmed's son was injured during the shooting.

In Baghdad, gunmen killed the assistant director of the Interior Ministry's criminal investigation department early Wednesday after opening fire on his car as he headed to work, Rahman said.

Col. Ismail al-Ayal was ambushed near his home in the city's western Ghazaliya district, Rahman said.

Insurgents have targeted police and civic officials because they are seen as collaborators with U.S. forces.

In Rome, Pope John Paul II led prayers Wednesday for the release of two female Italian aid workers who were seized from their Baghdad offices by camouflage-clad gunmen a day earlier.

Jean-Dominique Bunel, a spokesman for the NGO Coordination Committee, said there was no indication on who was behind the abduction of Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, both 29.

The pair worked for an Italian NGO working on water and sewage projects.

It was only the second known kidnapping of foreign women since a wave of hostage-takings began this year. A female Japanese aid worker was captured in Fallujah in April but was released a week later.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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