Monday, October 18, 2004 - U.S. & World - U.S. Battles Militants Near Fallujah:

"Separately, the most feared militant group in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's (search) Tawhid and Jihad, said in an Internet statement that it would take orders from Usama bin Laden (search) and Al Qaeda from now on.

Throughout the day, the crackle of automatic weapons fire and the thud of artillery echoed across Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, as fighting between American troops and insurgents raged on the eastern and southern edges of the city, witnesses said.

Clashes blocked the main road leading to Baghdad, and plumes of smoke rose above the flat-roofed houses in the city's Askari and Shuhada neighborhoods in eastern and southern Fallujah.......

American forces have stepped up attacks around Fallujah since peace talks between the Iraqi government and Fallujah clerics broke down last Thursday after city leaders rejected Allawi's demand to hand over "foreign terrorists," including the Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi.

Fallujah clerics insist al-Zarqawi, whose Tawhid and Jihad movement has claimed responsibility for multiple car-bombings and hostage beheadings, is not in the city. Fallujah fell under the control of hard-line Islamic clerics and their armed followers after U.S. Marines lifted a three-week siege in late April.

Despite the claim that al-Zarqawi is not in the city, a statement posted on an Islamic militant Web site on Sunday made a rare announcement that a member of Tawhid and Jihad identified as Sheik Abu Hafs al-Libi was killed fighting the Americans in Fallujah. The claim's authenticity could not be confirmed.

The earlier Internet statement from al-Zarqawi's group, which also could not be verified, affirmed the "allegiance of Tawhid and Jihad's leadership and soldiers to the chief of all fighters, Usama bin Laden." It said the announcement was timed for the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when "Muslims need more than ever to stick together in the face of the religion's enemies."

The car bombing occurred late Sunday in Baghdad's fashionable Jadiriyah district, home to the Australian and other embassies. The dead included four policemen and the driver, according to the interior ministry.

As the Iraqis try to reach a peaceful end to the Fallujah standoff, the U.S. military is believed to be drafting plans for an all-out assault on the city if negotiations fail.

In London, the British Defense Ministry said the United States has asked Britain to redeploy hundreds of troops from southern Iraq amid reports the soldiers will back up the Americans in the event of a major attack on Fallujah."

Maybe Zarqawi and his men are pledging allegiance to bin Laden hoping he will send reinforcements, because the Americans have him pinned at Falluja and he knows it is just a matter of time before the Americans crush him.

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