US warplanes pounded the Iraqi town for a third time in just over 24 hours in an ongoing push to wrest hotspots from rebel hands before the January elections.

A doctor said Falluja General Hospital received two bodies and treated 10 people wounded in strikes on al-Jolan, al-Shuhada, al-Askari and Jubail neighbourhoods in Falluja, 65km west of Baghdad.

Dr Ahmad Ghanim, told Aljazeera: "Two people were killed and eight others, including women and old men, were injured early on Sunday during the new US raid.

"The casualties were only family members, including women and children.

"None of the killed or injured belonged to any armed groups."

The pre-dawn strike on Sunday took place just hours after US and Iraqi officials said Samarra, another city that had been held by insurgents, was largely under control after one of their largest post-war military offensives in the country.

City smouldering

US-led forces believe they are
targeting al-Zarqawi loyalists

The outskirts of Falluja were smouldering again after US warplanes bombed a building where the military said between ten and 15 fighters suspected of links with Iraq's most wanted man Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi had been shifting weapons.

"A large number of enemy fighters are presumed killed," the army said, without giving an exact toll.

The latest attack followed two earlier missions around the Sunni Arab enclave west of Baghdad again targeting what the US called suspected al-Zarqawi hideouts.

It was impossible to verify the casualty situation on the ground, but several women and children were among those killed and wounded in an earlier strike on Friday, according to hospital officials.

Civilians dead

Meanwhile in Samarra, north of the Iraqi capital, hospital officials were still attending the dead after a massive US-Iraqi offensive on Friday and into Saturday that killed at least 125 people and wounded 88.

Ziyad al-Samarai, an Iraqi journalist, told Aljazeera: "The situation in Samarra city is very tense and unstable. US forces have taken up rooftop positions on the city's buildings and schools, completely closing the city and preventing people from moving around. 

"There are still dead bodies and injured people lying in the streets. US forces have prevented ambulances from reaching some sites to transfer casualties.

"There are no armed groups in Samarra. Citizens have been shocked by the US forces closure and pounding of the city, accusing them of false charges," he added.   

Clean up

Iraq's interim government claimed it had achieved its aim of rooting out the insurgents.

Al-Naqib:We cleaned the city of
all the bad guys and terrorists

"We cleaned up the city from all the bad guys and terrorists," Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib told reporters on Saturday.

Speaking at city hall, al-Naqib said the mission was the most successful to date, and hinted at further action to regain control of other no-go areas.

Asked if Falluja would be next on the list, the minister said: "I would like to say today rather than tomorrow ... we would be able to do that.

"Falluja has to come back to Iraq ... we want all Iraqis to participate in the elections."

But a leading Sunni Muslim religious group questioned the logic of using brute force to achieve democratic goals.

"Resorting to iron and fire to prepare for elections is a flawed method," the Association of Muslim Scholars said.

Other attacks

In the western city of Baquba ,a police car hit a roadside bomb injuring one policeman, officials said.

Another Iraqi was killed and eight others injured after an explosive device was activated in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib area, medical sources told Aljazeera.

The explosion targeted a US military patrol, but there were no immediate reports of casualties among the soldiers.