"Conditions in Falluja are catastrophic," said Firdus al-Ubadi, spokeswoman for the Iraqi Red Crescent in Baghdad.

   

A four-truck convoy of relief supplies left Baghdad on Saturday for Falluja, even though the US military and Iraq's interim government have not accepted the Red Crescent's pleas for permission to enter the urban war zone.

 

Dangerous destination

   

"Our destination is Falluja. We know it is risky but this is our duty as a humanitarian society and as Iraqis," al-Ubadi said. 

 

Officials said the trucks are carrying food, blankets, first-aid kits, medicine and a water-purification unit from the Red Crescent, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Unicef.

 

Humanitarian aid is being sent to
Falluja by the Iraqi Red
 Crescent

"We've had no contact with the Americans," said Jamal al-Karbuli, the doctor in charge of the convoy. The trucks would drive until troops stopped them, he said.

   

"Then we'll try to talk to them, let them search the trucks to see we only have medicine, food and first aid," he said as the convoy began its eastward 50km drive to Falluja.

 

Fierce fighting

 

Fadhil Badran, Aljazeera's correspondent in Falluja, said fighting was fierce and continuous in Falluja's south-eastern neighbourhood al-Shuhada and in al-Julan to the north-west.  

 

Day sometimes turns into night due to the intense smoke from burning homes, shops and factories and from US military vehicles set ablaze, Badran said.

 

Intense smoke from burning
buildings envelops the town

US forces have moved from the middle to the north of the town, Badran added. The north and west are still controlled by the city's Iraqi resistance, he said, adding that large numbers of fighters were present in the Senaee and Askari neighbourhoods.

 

Describing the conditions of civilians as abysmal, Badran said US air strikes had killed several families. Women, children and the sick had been buried in their gardens, he said.

 

"I met a Falluja civilian who told me that he asked the Red Crescent for help but they could not oblige. He said he had buried two of his children and that two would die today, and hence he would not need any assistance," Badran said.

 

Resentment

 

The attack on Falluja has inflamed resentment across central Iraq, where anti-US fighters have launched a wave of attacks and bombings.

 

Fighters have launched attacks
in Mosul against US-led forces

Iraqi national guardsmen based near the Syrian border were ordered to move to Mosul where fighters have taken over streets and police stations since Wednesday.

 

On Saturday, looters rampaged through a palace that had been used as a US base in Mosul after troops apparently left at dawn.

Cars and trucks packed with people swarmed to the palace, where they were seen making off with food, equipment and clothes, even a mattress, a reporter at the scene in northern Mosul said. 

Air strikes
  
The government fired Mosul's police chief after nine police stations fell into the hands of fighters. Residents said armed men roamed the streets on Saturday, with no sign of security forces.

The US military denied on Friday that Mosul was out of control, but said it had launched air strikes on Thursday night to curb fighters.    

The United States said the Falluja offensive launched by 10,000 US and 2000 Iraqi troops on Monday would not stop until all resistance in the city had been wiped out.

 

Aljazeera regret

    

Aljazeera's offices in Iraq were
shut by Iraqi government order

In New York, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was deeply disturbed by a new directive from Iraqi authorities warning media to stick to the government line on Falluja.

 

"It damages the government's credibility in establishing a free and democratic society," CPJ director Ann Cooper said.

 

Aljazeera has meanwhile apologised to its viewers for being unable to cover the Iraqi events directly due to the closure of its offices by the Iraqi interim government three months ago.

 

AMS member held

 

In other incidents, an Iraqi national guards team arrested Mustafa al-Dulaimi, a member of Iraq's influential Muslim body Association of Muslim Scholars, after raiding his home in Baghdad.

 

Witnesses confirmed that he was brutally assaulted by some of the guardsmen.


Al-Dulaimi had earlier led a demonstration in front of the Abu
Hanifa mosque to condemn the US and Iraqi forces attacks on Falluja.

 

Clashes spread

 

Oil pipeline in Baiji was set ablaze

Also on Saturday, four Iraqis were killed and 12 injured in a US raid at Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad. Two military vehicles were damaged in the area by an explosive device that targeted a US army convoy on the highway, Aljazeera has learned.


In Baiji, a blast in an oil pipeline caused by an explosive device set it ablaze. Two of the
oil facility guards were reported missing after the incident.

 

In Tikrit, four Iraqis, three of whom were policemen, were injured seriously in an explosion.

 

US vehicle destroyed

 

In Baquba, a US Humvee military vehicle was destroyed by an explosive device. The US forces cut off all roads leading to the accident site. Witnesses said the injured were evacuated in a US military aircraft.  

 

"We know it is risky but this is our duty as a humanitarian society
and as Iraqis"

Firdus al-Abadi,
Iraqi Red Crescent

Anti-US fighters also broke into al-Sadr hotel located in al-Karada, a centrally located area of Baghdad, Aljazeera reported.

 

Fighting erupted in al-Adhamiya between Iraqi fighters and US and Iraqi police forces near the Abu Hanifa mosque.

 

US and Iraqi forces also raided a mosque in al-Habaniya on the suspicion that fighters from Falluja carrying weapons had taken refuge there.

 

Iraq's international airport in Baghdad will remain closed for commercial flights until further notice, the office of US-backed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has said.