A doctor at a hospital in Samarra, about 100km north of Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris, said on Saturday five more bodies had been brought in overnight. Twenty people were treated for wounds.

Dozens of bodies had been brought in on Friday.
 
Residents said US aircraft bombarded parts of the city, and tanks patrolled the streets 24 hours after the offensive was launched to retake the city. The town had been a virtual no-go zone for US troops for months.

The US military has pledged to wrest all areas held by insurgents before the end of the year so elections can be held in January. Thousands of soldiers are involved in the Samarra offensive.

Iraq's Defence minister said the offensive would begin in October and that Samarra appeared to be the first step.

As well as Samarra, a town of about 100,000, the cities of Falluja and Ramadi, west of Baghdad, would also have to be taken, as would several areas of Baghdad, including the suburb of Sadr City.

 

The commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division Major General John Batiste said 125 guerrillas had been killed and 88 captured.

 

He said operations in the town would continue for several days.


Shrine stormed

In attacks on Friday, US-led forces said they killed more than 100 "guerrillas" in air strikes and street-to-street combat.

Street-to-street combat is taking 
place in Samarra

At the same time about 35 fighters opposed to the US presence in the country, were captured, 25 of them inside the Golden Mosque, a revered ancient Shia shrine.

Iraqi forces stormed the mosque to offset any local anger at the presence of US troops on Shia holy ground. The seizure of the shrine was a tactical strike to try to prevent insurgents holing up there as they did in Najaf for weeks.


During Friday's clashes, Samarra's hospital said dozens of bodies were brought in, including at least 11 women, five children and seven old men. Staff could not cope with any more wounded and bodies lay in the streets.

Thousands of people fled the town, while water and electricity supplies were cut off.

Falluja bombed

 

Falluja was also attacked by US warplanes overnight, the latest in a weeks-long campaign of aerial bombardments.

Civilians are dying in what the US
military calls precision strikes

Seven people were killed including a woman and two children.

Two houses were reported to have been flattened in al-Shurta district.
 

Dr Ahmad Tahir at Falluja's general hospital said seven
dead, including children and women, and 13 wounded were received at the hospital.

Another doctor, Muhammad al-Dulaimi, at the same hospital earlier said the dead were civilians.

An AP photographer saw the bodies of women and children being removed from the rubble of the homes.

Relentless bombing


The US military said it "conducted a precision strike on yet another confirmed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi terrorist site in northeast Falluja".

The renewed aerial bombardment comes amid a week of relentless bombing of the Iraqi city, home to about 350,000 people.

At least four people were killed and 10 others injured when US warplanes targeted al-Askari and industrial neighbourhoods near the main highway east of the city on 28 September.

 

Civilian casualties

 

Mahmud al-Jiraisi, Falluja city commissioner, told Aljazeera on 27 September that US air strikes were killing only civilians.

 

Many homes have been flattened
by the US air strikes on Falluja

"The city houses large numbers of people," he said.

"They cannot all leave the city due to their huge number and miserable living situations. They cannot leave and be a burden on other families."

 

At least 15 people were killed and 25 wounded on 25 September in what US military authorities are calling a precision strike targeting "terrorists meeting in the Jolan district of Falluja".

 

"The last bombing targeted a residential area and casualties were all civilians," al-Jarisi said.

 

US military authorities, however, say no civilians were in the targeted areas, based on intelligence information they received.

 

"Intelligence sources indicated that approximately 10 terrorists were meeting at this location to plan operations targeting innocent Iraqi civilians and multi-national forces," said a US military statement on the strike carried out at 1800 GMT on 25 September.

 

US soldiers hit

 

Separately, a US military vehicle was targeted by another car bomb in Mosul that left two soldiers wounded, a spokeswoman said.

 

"They were evacuated but will be returned to duty," she told AFP.

 

Just over half an hour later, US troops were also targeted in the Baghdad Shiite slum of Sadr City when an armoured personnel carrier was hit by an improvised explosive device.

 

Iraqi beheaded

 

An Iraqi group fighting US-led forces said today it had beheaded an Iraqi contractor who was working for US forces, a video on an Islamist website showed on Saturday.

 

Three Iraqi Kurds were also killed 
by Ansar al-Sunna

The footage from the group Ansar al-Sunna showed the beheading of the man identified as Iraqi national Baria Nafia Dawud Ibrahim.

 

The group said in a statement accompanying the video that Ibrahim was an "apostate". It was dated 2 October.

 

"I have set up three telecommunications networks for the Iraqi National Guard. I have been working in Taji since June 2004," a frightened-looking Ibrahim told the camera. He was
wearing an access badge issued by the US forces around his neck.

 

"We say to all those who even consider working with the crusader forces that they should repent," the group warned.