US soldiers surround town near Baghdad

September 21, 2003

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FALLUJAH, Sept 20: An explosion and an exchange of small arms gunfire struck the centre of the hotspot of Fallujah on Saturday as hundreds of US troops and vehicles were deployed to the town, witnesses said.

An eyewitness said the explosion was heard across Fallujah, 50kms west of Baghdad, when it detonated. Gunfire erupted immediately afterwards.

The explosion occurred shortly after the main highway and a second access route, both linking the capital to Fallujah, were reopened after being cut by hundreds of troops and vehicles entering the city.

One witness said troops blocked the exit and entry points to Fallujah and traffic had backed-up “for kilometres” heading into the town.

However, the witness said the roads were reopened after an hour as the troop convoys divided into two lines and were deployed to separate US bases on the southern and western perimeters of the city.

Another explosion went off outside a sports club belonging to the former Iraqi army in central Baghdad, but it caused no injuries.

The blast, which sent up a large smoke cloud, was heard on the north-south motorway that dissects the capital, and caused shockwaves that rattled windows across the city.

The sports club, used by officers of the former Iraqi army of deposed president Saddam Hussein, was empty at the time of the blast.

There were no injuries, but a passing taxi was damaged.

Fallujah and nearby towns have witnessed constant attacks on US soldiers. The area is part of a belt where loyalty to Saddam has sorely tested US occupation forces.

Attacks appear to have escalated since a purported message from Saddam Hussein urging renewed Iraqi resistance was broadcast on television on Wednesday.

On Thursday, three US soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were wounded in an attack near Ramadi, west of Fallujah, and three vehicles destroyed in a bomb and small arms attack.

And an Iraqi teenager was killed and four other people wounded Wednesday when American soldiers opened fire in the center of Fallujah, witnesses said.

The soldiers opened fire when their convoy drove near a house where a wedding was under way and shots were being fired in the air in celebration, said a reporter in the town.

Fourteen-year-old Sufian Daoud was shot dead and four people, including two women, were wounded.

That incident came after the US military issued an apology last Saturday after nine security guards from Fallujah were killed the previous day when US troops opened fire as the guards were apparently engaged in a high-speed car chase.

Last Sunday, one US soldier was killed and another three wounded in Fallujah when the convoy they were travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb. —AFP