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"70 percent" of Fallujah under US control

By Brian Knapp

News Wire


A stunningly swift advance by American forces seized control of "70 percent" of the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah, while in Baghdad, kidnappers abducted two members of interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's family.

A militant group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad claimed in a Web posting to have carried out the kidnapping and threatened to behead the hostages within 48 hours unless the siege of Fallujah was lifted and prisoners were freed.

Armed men snatched one of the prime minister's cousins, Ghazi Allawi, and the cousin's daughter-in-law from their home in Baghdad's western Yarmouk neighborhood Tuesday night, government spokesman Thair al-Naqeeb said. "Ghazi Allawi is 75 years old. He has no political affiliation, and is not holding a government post," al-Naqeeb said.

Ansar al-Jihad said in its Web posting that it abducted three people a cousin of Allawi, the cousin's wife and another relative. "We promise Allah and his messenger that if the agent government doesn't respond to our demands within 48 hours, they (the hostages) will be beheaded," the statement said. Police had initially said that three relatives were kidnapped.

Insurgents have been trying to open a "second front" with a wave of attacks to divert U.S. forces from their offensive in Fallujah.

In Fallujah, the military said U.S. troops pushed insurgents into a section of the city flanking the main east-west highway that bisects the rebel bastion. At least 71 militants had been killed as of the beginning of the third day of intense urban combat, the military said, with the casualty figure expected to rise sharply once U.S. forces account for Iraqis and foreign fighters killed in airstrikes.

As of Tuesday night, 10 U.S. troops and two members of the Iraqi security force had been killed, a toll that already equaled the number of American troops who died when Marines besieged the city for three weeks in April.

About 100 men, women and children left their homes in Fallujah and made their way to American positions in the south of the city where they gave themselves up Wednesday, an officer from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division said. The group was to be searched for weapons and questioned, and all military-age men would be detained, the officer said.

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