In Falluja where Iraqi resistance has been intense,  a Sunni religious leader Sheikh Abdullah Janabi said the anti-US attacks began as revenge for the killings of 15 youthful demonstrators in late April.

 

Janabi urged people to give the United States-led occupation forces six months to finish their mission in the town. "When this period is finished, the patience of Muslims will run out and jihad (holy struggle) will be declared," he told worshippers at Friday prayers.

 

In the holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, a Shia religious leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Hakim said in a media interview that his community could turn against United States-led occupation forces if they were not given political compensation after decades of persecution under Saddam Hussein.

 

"They gave the justification that they came in the name of liberation but now they are an occupying force. That is what is making people angry," he said, adding "If the people lose their patience, there will be a social uproar."

 

US soldiers killed

 

US forces fighting
phantom-like resistance

Meanwhile, more US soldiers died as occupation troops encountered stiff resistance on Thursday night.  Aljazeera television quoted eyewitnesses saying that a number of US soldiers had been killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Qal'a district in the town of Samara.

 

Several others were also injured in the attack that seemed to target the temporary US headquarters in the town.

 

In Fallujah, US troops faced more embarrassment as they pulled out of the embittered town in the wake of growing attacks.

 

They also vacated a police station and a government building that they had been occupying. US soldiers are now stationed around Fallujah.  Our correspondent said Iraqis were likely to view the US pull-out as a victory. 

 

Elsewhere in Iraq, US troops came under persistent attacks.  Aljazeera TV reported huge explosions rocking overnight at a Presidential Palace to the north of al-Ramadi inhabited by US soldiers.

 

Our correspondent said another US military patrol was attacked near the city of Yaquba. The attacks came only hours after US President George W Bush admitted that US soldiers faced a serious security situation in Iraq

 

The occupation forces in Iraq are already facing between 10 and 25 attacks a day, according to US general Tommy Franks who led the invasion.