Fallujah violence kills 11

Three US soldiers were killed on Monday, including one in the worst fighting in Fallujah since a so-called ‘cease-fire’ was declared in the town more than two weeks ago.

Two more were killed, and 13 people wounded, in a large explosion at a building in a northern district of Baghdad that the US-led coalition claimed was being used to make “chemical munitions”.

Spanish troops also killed five insurgents when they were attacked near the southern Iraqi city of Diwaniyah.

A British soldier was injured as a six vehicle convoy was hit by a roadside bomb at Basra, also in the south.

In other Iraq developments, US troops started to take over from departing Spanish and Latin American troops at a base near Najaf where radical Shiite cleric Sheikh Moqtada al-Sadr is holed up.

Sadr warned that US forces would feel the “fires of hell” if they carried out their threat to kill or capture him.

Coalition spokesman Dan Senor described the situation in Najaf as “explosive” and warned that militants were continuing to stockpile weapons in mosques, shrines and schools.

The spokesman for Sadr has called on all Muslims in Iraq to defend Najaf if US troops attempt to enter it.

“If they enter Najaf, all Muslims in Iraq must defend (the holy city), wherever they are and by any means they consider appropriate,” Qais al-Khazaali told Al Jazeera television.

There were clashes on Monday in the nearby city of Kufa between US troops and Iraqi militia loyal to Sadr.

Mortar rounds and gunfire could be heard.

As the country limps towards the June 30 handover deadline, Iraqi politicians will open three days of key consultations in Baghdad on Tuesday on forming a new interim government.

Meanwhile, oil exports from Iraq’s main southern terminals have fully resumed after security forces foiled near-simultaneous attacks by three suicide boat bombers on Saturday.

Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged mastermind of Al-Qaeda operations in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the oil terminal bombings.

“With their attacks, our brothers hit the oil installations in the Al-Amiq and Al-Bakr terminals… just like their brothers, the Al-Qaeda lions, who (in 2000) attacked the destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden” in Yemen al-Zarqawi said in a statement published by an Islamic website.

The bombings by speedboats of Iraq’s crucial oil installations near Basra killed three US sailors and wounded four others, while temporarily interrupting oil exports.

Messages attributed to Zarqawi have repeatedly surfaced in recent months — the US has a $US10 million bounty on his head.

Most recently on April 6, he threatened in a taped message new attacks on both coalition forces and Shiites in Iraq, whom he qualified as “allies of the Jews and the Americans”.

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