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U.S. warplanes pound targets in Fallujah

More than 60 insurgents killed near Najaf

Heavy fire from a U.S. aerial gunship lights up the sky Tuesdy night in Fallujah.
Watch CNN for ongoing updates on the situation in Fallujah, plus CNN correspondents' reports from Baghdad, the Pentagon and the White House.
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Pool reporter Karl Penhaul describes the shelling that lit up the night sky in Fallujah

With the Marines looking to take control in Fallujah, the U.S. is hoping to avoid the worst-case scenairo: all-out urban combat.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre on Pentagon plans to replace the Army's basic "thin-skinned" Humvees.
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Armed Conflict

FALLUJAH, Iraq (CNN) -- Intense fire from U.S. warplanes lit the sky Tuesday night in Fallujah, a hotbed of Sunni Muslim resistance where U.S. Marines have engaged in a two-week standoff with insurgents.

Two AC-130 gunships began pounding two suspected insurgent positions shortly before 10:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. ET), lighting the night sky after a day of relative calm there, U.S. Marines and Pentagon officials said.

Columns of smoke rose from the area being bombarded, and the shelling appeared to have set off at least two large secondary explosions.

Marines said the AC-130s, modified transport planes, fired 105 mm cannon at the insurgents while circling the area.

The focus appears to be two insurgent positions near Marine outposts in the city.

Several mosques broadcast verses from the Quran during and after the bombardment.

Fallujah has been the site of fierce resistance to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. Pentagon officials said the strikes were in response to a threat to Marines there and were not the beginning of a new push against the insurgents.

"Marines responded by directing precision weaponry against the enemy forces in order to defend themselves," a military statement said.

U.S. Marines launched an offensive against Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah earlier this month after numerous attacks on U.S. forces and others, including the killing and mutilation of four U.S. security contractors March 31.

U.S. commanders halted that offensive April 12 in order to let negotiators try to arrange a return to Iraqi civil control in the city.

Despite a declared cease-fire, however, clashes between the Marines and insurgents occur daily. One such battle Monday left one Marine dead and nine wounded, three seriously.

Tuesday was the deadline for insurgents to turn in their heavy weapons under the cease-fire terms, but a senior coalition official said earlier that the coalition would allow more time for the negotiations to bear fruit.

Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a U.S. spokesman in Baghdad, said the military is committed to letting the political process work in an effort to prevent the resumption of a full-fledged battle. "Some intangible progress" had been made Tuesday, he said.

"The negotiations, the discussions in the minds of the Marine commanders, continue to proceed, even though we did not see a tremendous number of weapons turned in today," Kimmitt said.

Plans to begin joint Marine-Iraqi police patrols in Fallujah on Tuesday were postponed, the official said.

1st Armored Division replaces Spanish troops

Farther south, about 2,500 U.S. troops are poised outside Najaf, where an uprising led by radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr began three weeks ago.

U.S. helicopter gunships and another AC-130 attacked fighters from al-Sadr's militia, the Mehdi Army, on the outskirts of the city late Monday.

Kimmitt said the fighting took place on the east side of the Euphrates River, across from Najaf and the nearby city of Kufa. He said seven fighters from the Shiite militia were killed after opening fire on a U.S. patrol, and a later clash killed 57 militiamen and knocked out an antiaircraft position.

U.S. officials have said they want to capture or kill al-Sadr, who is wanted on murder charges in connection with the slaying of a rival cleric last year. Talks aimed at defusing the possibility of fighting between U.S. troops and the Mehdi Army are proceeding.

Troops from the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division are picking up the slack left when most of the 1,430-strong Spanish contingent withdrew from the Kufa and Najaf area. Spain's prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said Tuesday that all Spanish troops will be out of Iraq by May 27.

"Until the 27th of May the only Spanish military personnel remaining in zones of operation will be dedicated to security and to carrying out orders, support and logistics related to the withdrawal," Zapatero said. (Full story)

American troops have moved into the Spanish base camp between Najaf and Kufa, but have not entered the city, a U.S. commander said.

Attacks and raids have been reported throughout Iraq during the past 24 hours, including the killing of a U.S. soldier in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood and four people who attacked a patrol in Diwaniyah, central Iraq, a military spokesman said.

Other developments

  • Two sisters of a female soldier killed in Iraq have decided not to return to that country, a family spokeswoman said Tuesday. (Full Story)
  • U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Tuesday that a caretaker Iraqi government could be selected by the end of May, a month before the handover of sovereignty by the U.S.-led coalition June 30. (Full Story)
  • Italian politicians condemned a threat Tuesday that Iraqi militants made the day before to kill three hostages unless Italians protest over the presence of their country's troops in Iraq. Relatives of the hostages urged Italians to help set the men free and take part in rallies Wednesday and Thursday. (Full story)
  • Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root confirmed Tuesday the death of an employee who has been missing since their convoy was ambushed outside of Baghdad on April 9. The victim was identified as Tony Johnson, 47, of Riverside, California. Johnson was a volunteer worker, Halliburton spokeswoman Wendy Hall said. Thomas Hamill of Macon, Mississippi, and two other unidentified KBR employees remain missing since the attack.
  • Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on Tuesday at an undisclosed location, according to a U.S. Army spokesman. Saddam has been in coalition custody since he was captured December 13. The last visit to Saddam from the Red Cross, which monitors conditions of prisoners of war, was in February.
  • The Iraqi Governing Council chooses a new flag that includes a blue crescent, representing Islam. (Full story)
  • CNN's Jamie McIntyre, and Karl Penhaul, the U.S. pool reporter in Fallujah, contributed to this report.

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