The toll includes three non-combat deaths.  

Nevertheless, marine Major-General Richard Natonski said on Sunday the operation had proceeded quicker than expected, with the entire city occupied by US-led troops after six days of fighting.

He said he and other commanders learned from April's failed three-week marine assault on Falluja, which was called off by the Bush administration after a worldwide outcry over civilian deaths.

This time, the military sent in six times as many troops and 20 types of aircraft. Troops also faked attacks before the assault to confuse enemy anti-US fighters.

"Maybe we learned from April," Natonski said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We learned we can't do it piecemeal. When we go in, we go all the way through. We had the green light this time and we went all the way."

Still, there seems to be no let-up in the overall violence level. On Sunday witnesses reported a large explosion in Baghdad near hotels frequented by foreigners while Aljazeera reported the downing of a US helicopter near Falluja.

Steady influx

Meanwhile, the main European military hospital of the US military said US soldiers wounded in Iraq have been arriving for treatment since the Falluja offensive at more than double the previous rate.

There has been a sharp jump in
the number of US casualties

Staff at the Landstuhl medical facility in Germany reported on Sunday a "surge of activity" as casualties, chiefly from the US Army and Marines, arrived with gunshot wounds, blast injuries and burns after the assault on the rebel-held city began on 8 November.    

"This was not a holiday weekend for us," Colonel Todd Hess, a senior Landstuhl surgeon told reporters at a press conference.

Facility commander Colonel Rhonda Cornum said since 8 November, the number of daily arrivals had averaged 70, compared with around 32 over the past six months. Of the 419 wounded, 95% were from Iraq, with the remainder from Afghanistan.

Routine care deferred

"We have been deferring routine medical care ... until this surge in activity is over," Cornum said.

Landstuhl is the usual destination for seriously injured US troops stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Cornum added the percentage of those admitted with battle injuries had risen to more than 50%, compared with less than half that amount previously. Extra nurses were brought in and doctors have worked in double teams to cope with the surge.

Cornum said the recent intake of casualties had been the heaviest since the US assault on Falluja in spring.

She added that almost half the patients had been sent back to the United States, with none so far returning to Iraq. Cornum said Landstuhl usually managed to return around 28% of soldiers to their units, if possible within two weeks.