Fallujah offensive begins, Iraqi troops seize main hospital.
Iraqi troops took control of the main hospital in the besieged city of Falluja, a U.S. pool reporter outside the city said Sunday. The operation marks the start of the planned offensive to retake the city, Pentagon officials said, but it remains unclear when the main assault on the city will begin
U.S. forces stormed into western districts of Fallujah (search) early Monday, seizing the main city hospital and securing two key bridges over the Euphrates River (search) in what appeared to be the first stage of the long-expected assault on the insurgent stronghold.
An AC-130 gunship (search) raked the city with 40 mm cannon fire as explosions from U.S. artillery lit up the night sky. Intermittent artillery fire blasted southern neighborhoods of Fallujah, and orange fireballs from high explosive airbursts could be seen above the rooftops.
U.S. officials said the toughest fight was yet to come when American forces enter the main part of the city on the east bank of the river, including the Jolan neighborhood where insurgent defenses are believed the strongest.
The initial attacks on Fallujah began just hours after the Iraqi government declared 60 days of emergency rule throughout most of the country as militants dramatically escalated attacks, killing at least 30 people, including two Americans.
Dr. Salih al-Issawi, the head of Fallujah’s main hospital, said he had asked U.S. officers to allow doctors and ambulances go inside the main part of the city to help the wounded but they refused. There was no confirmation from the Americans.