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U.S. Commander in Iraq: Attack on Schedule

November 8, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday that a U.S.-led effort to take control of the Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah was proceeding on schedule with as many as 15,000 troops participating in the siege.

As the fighting raged in Iraq, Gen. George Casey said in a conference call with reporters at the Pentagon that the vast majority of civilians in the city of 300,000 people had left. Some insurgents managed to slip away, he said, while others ``have moved in.″

Casey described the Iraqi rebels as ``an amorphous group of terrorists and insurgents″ and said not one single group appeared to be in change.

``The Iraqi people are fighting to throw off the mantle of terror and intimidation so that they can elect their own government and get on with building a better life for all Iraqis,″ he said. ``The elimination of Fallujah as a terrorist safe haven will go a long way toward those goals.″

Casey said that U.S. troops had secured a hospital used as a staging area by Sunni insurgents and two bridges across the Euphrates River. One of the bridges was where Iraqis hung the charred bodies of at least two of four American contractors last March.

Casey refused to give a specific count or breakdown of the U.S. and Iraqi forces involved in the operation, but said 10,000 to 15,000 was ``in the ballpark.″

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