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Monday, April 12

Cease-fire brings little rest for Marines around Fallujah

By Gidget Fuentes | Marine Corps Times

FALLUJAH, Iraq - While a cease-fire continued Monday around this volatile city 35 miles west of Baghdad, Marines continued to clear buildings and destroy weapons they uncovered, including material for suicide bombings.

As additional infantry forces arrived in the area, Marines continue to control parts of Fallujah and block most traffic in and out of the city that has been torn by fighting between Marines and insurgents for the past week.

A battalion commander said Marines delivered food and water to some neighborhoods and allowed limited deliveries of humanitarian supplies. They also allowed safe passage through the cordon lines so a pregnant woman could reach a nearby hospital.

Throughout the evening and into the night Monday, gunfire and blasts from rockets or mortars could be heard not far from their operating base in the city.

Infantry companies with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment from Camp Pendleton, Calif., had battled insurgents Monday when they came under fire, said Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, the battalion commander.

In one case, Marines responded to a checkpoint manned by Iraqi Civil Defense Corps soldiers who were attacked by gunmen. ``Alpha Company was sent in to render assistance,'' Byrne told reporters Monday at a base set up at a soda distribution warehouse near a key highway interchange.

In another case, one company holding its defensive position came under attack by two men with a machine gun. Both men were killed, and a third man who responded to the scene in an ambulance was killed when he retrieved the machine gun, Byrne said.

Marines also found in one house machine guns that had been booby-trapped and ICDC uniforms belonging to a unit based in Fallujah, which Byrne said raised additional suspicions about some ties between Iraqi security forces and insurgents battling U.S. military forces.

``We know we've had Iraqi police and ICDC members helping out,'' Byrne said. ``We know these guys were actually supporting the anti-coalition forces,'' which he described as a mix of terrorists, foreign fighters and former regime elements.

The weapons cache destroyed Monday included 220 rocket-propelled grenades, 250 fuses, 100 pounds of high explosives, 75 grenades, 35 57mm rockets, four 122mm rockets, two tank rounds and 2,000 feet of detonation cord, Byrne said.

Marines also found in what the commander called a ``terror cell'' a suicide belt fashioned from a belt stuffed with plastic explosives, detonation cord, ball bearings and a grenade pull fuse. Six Iraqi identification cards were found, although he said they could be fake.

Since the temporary halt was ordered late last week, Marines with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have held their front lines but continued to search and clear buildings in their area of operations as they await word of what's next.

``It's really only a matter of time,'' Byrne said. ``My mission here is to destroy anti-coalition forces. It's an enemy-focused mission.''

Byrne's men, along with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines from Camp Pendleton and 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines from Twentynine Palms, Calif., are preparing to resume offensive operations in and around Fallujah once the halt is lifted.

When that will be is anyone's guess here.

Byrne said the halt doesn't necessarily give enemy forces the advantage.

The concentration of anti-coalition forces also can make them an easy target, easy to find and easy to overwhelm with the greater firepower that the Marines can bring to bear, he said.

``They are just looking forward to the opportunity to get back right there and fight,'' he added.