An Iraqi security force has joined U.S. troops in Fallujah as part of a new effort to end a month-long standoff with insurgents and restore order in the besieged city.
The force is being led by General Jasim Mohammed Saleh, a former senior member of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard. The general received a hero's welcome Friday, as he walked through the center of Fallujah.
Under an agreement worked out by U.S. military commanders, American Marines have been pulling back from positions inside the city to allow the new Iraqi force to move in.
U.S. General Mark Kimmitt says the all-volunteer Iraqi force will consist of between 600 and 11-hundred men and be known as the First Fallujah Brigade. General Kimmitt insisted that Marines are not withdrawing, but repositioning to integrate the Iraqi force.
The Associated Press quotes Pentagon officials as saying the Iraqi force will initially man checkpoints while Marines remain on or near the city's perimeter. They say that at later stage, the Marines will conduct their own patrols inside the city.
The security plan marks a shift in U.S. strategy, which until now had marginalized members of Saddam's Baath Party and last year abolished the Iraqi army.
Outside Fallujah, in Anbar province, two U.S. sailors were killed today (Saturday) in fighting with Iraqi militants. No details were given of what the sailors were doing in the area, but the Navy often provides Marine units with logistical, medical and other support.
Fallujah, a Sunni Muslim city in central Iraq, has been a focal point of anti-coalition resistance. U.S. Marines began a crackdown in Fallujah in early April, after four American civilian security guards were killed in the city and their bodies publicly mutilated.
U.S. authorities have said many of the estimated two thousand insurgents in Fallujah are thought to have served under Saddam Hussein.
Information for this report is provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.