U.S. forces in Iraq suspended their offensive today (Friday) in the Sunni Muslim town of Fallujah, the scene of intense fighting since Monday.
The American administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, says U.S. forces unilaterally suspended offensive operations in Fallujah to enable members of the Iraqi Governing Council and local Muslim leaders to meet with "the leadership of anti-coalition forces" in the town.
U.S. military officers say the action is not a cease-fire, since they are defending their positions in Fallujah when they are fired on. Conflicting reports from the battle zone around Fallujah flowed in during the day, in some cases giving the impression that all-out fighting had resumed, but (General Mark Kimmitt) a senior American officer in Baghdad said U.S. troops were not conducting an offensive.
Insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy carrying fuel on a road west of Fallujah, near the town of Abu Ghraib. Witnesses said several vehicles were burning, and at least nine people died. The U-S military has not confirmed the attack.
Mr. Bremer said U.S. forces were allowing aid shipments and other supplies to enter Fallujah for a 24-hour period, and also were allowing residents to attend to their wounded and dead. Fighting in Fallujah since Monday has killed an estimated 300 Iraqis, as well as a number of U.S. Marines.
In southern Iraq, the U.S. military said coalition forces re-took the town of Kut (today) -- exactly one year after U.S. forcesended Saddam Hussein's rule over Iraq.
Kut is about 170 kilometers southeast of Baghdad. U.S. commanders said coalition forces also are preparing to dislodge the Shi'ite militia from the nearby town of Kufa, and from the holy city of Najaf.
Last April 9th was the day when jubilant Iraqis cheered as U.S. Marines pulled down a statue of Saddam in central Baghdad.
Hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims, including many from Iran, are visiting Iraq this weekend for a traditional religious pilgrimage (Arbain). U.S. authorities have warned worshipers to exercise caution, because the terror network of al-Qaida supporter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has threatened violence against them.
The Shi'ite Muslim festival climaxes in Karbala and Najaf this weekend.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.