US Marines enter Fallujah

Marines in armoured vehicles drove into the Sunni Muslim city west of Baghdad in convoy, with members of the newly established Fallujah brigade riding in pickup trucks.

A marine spokesman said the Americans spent about an hour there, meeting city officials and discussing plans to repair damage from last month’s fighting.

United States officials have hailed the move as a sign Fallujah is quiet after the Americans abandoned the siege and turned the rebellious city over to former soldiers from Saddam Hussein’s army.

Spokesman Lieutenant Eric Knapp said: “Freedom of movement is crucial to rebuild and stabilise the city.”

However, many residents in the city which saw fierce fighting, believe they defeated the marines because insurgent fighters held their positions against a ferocious American onslaught.

Marines began the siege of Fallujah on April 5 after the killing and mutilation of four US civilian contractors.

Ten marines and several hundred Iraqis were killed before the siege was lifted in an agreement providing for US troops to pull back and transfer primary security responsibility to an Iraqi force led by officers from Saddam’s military.

“We have not yet found the killers of the contractors,” said Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy head of operations in Iraq, adding: “The mission is not yet over.”

US officials have said they will insist that the killers of the contractors face justice in Iraq.

“We remain committed to achieving those objectives through a peaceful process but we will not flinch on those objectives,” Kimmitt said.

The Fallujah brigade is expected to number about 1,500 fighters, many of them soldiers from the old Iraqi army who live in the area.

US officials acknowledged some may have fought the marines during the siege.

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