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Ten Marines Die in Fallujah Bombing

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It is the deadliest attack on US forces in Iraq since August. Ten Marines were killed yesterday in a roadside bombing near Fallujah. The military says 11 other Marines were wounded in the attack.

SIEGEL: NPR's Anne Garrels is in Baghdad.

And, Anne, what more can you tell us about yesterday's attack?

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Well, it was a unit from the 2nd Marine Division who was checking out a factory just outside Fallujah. They were on foot when they came on the roadside bomb, which was reportedly made of several large artillery shells. In a brief statement, the military said seven of the wounded Marines have since returned to duty, and they say others from the same unit are continuing counterinsurgency operations.

Now of all the troops operating in Iraq, the Marine Corps has suffered a particularly heavy toll, accounting for more than a third of recent deaths though they represent less than 20 percent of American forces here. Marines are stationed, basically, in some of Iraq's most violent precincts and assigned to lead dangerous anti-insurgent sweeps.

SIEGEL: Now this week, the administration cited Fallujah as a success story for US forces in Iraq; you were recently embedded there. I just wonder what the situation is there now just over a year since the Marine offensive that ousted insurgents from the town.

GARRELS: Well, Fallujah, you know, is just 25 miles from Baghdad, but it might as well be a world away. The city was partially leveled last year during the Marine offensive, and the insurgents were largely ousted. It's now encircled by Marine checkpoints, where anyone going in and out is thoroughly searched, a process that can take hours and which has hindered reconstruction. Violence inside the city is way down. Marines and Fallujan leaders, some of them at any rate, are working together. More Fallujans voted than in any other city in Anbar during October's constitutional referendum. But it takes 4,000 Marines and 5,000 Iraqi troops to keep a lid on what's left of the city. And when I asked a Fallujan official, `Well, why don't I come back unembedded?' he said that was a very bad idea.

SIEGEL: We're going to hear more about the role of the Marines in Fallujah in a minute, but first, as you say, this is in Al Anbar province, and there are other US military operations under way in Anbar. What do you know about them?

GARRELS: Well, operations have been going on pretty steadily for several months now. About 2,000 American troops and 500 Iraqi soldiers are continuing their push to root out rebels in the rural region now east of Hit, a hundred miles west of Baghdad. Since the spring, Iraqi army soldiers, Marines, all sorts of troops have been working here, trying to disrupt insurgent networks along the Syrian border and the Euphrates River Valley, where guerrilla fighters have found save haven. And the capital of Anbar, Ramadi, is still riddled with insurgents. It's a big area with more than half a million people, too big to invade, as the Marines did in Fallujah last year and which they've done since in other smaller places.

So instead, for the past month the military has been conducting smaller operations, and the most recent started today. The military says its actions have resulted in numerous terrorists killed or detained, as well as the discovery of a large number of weapons caches. But insurgents yesterday, nonetheless, were able to disrupt a planned meeting between Marines and local leaders in Ramadi, where reconstruction and upcoming elections were supposed to be discussed.

SIEGEL: Well, thank you, Anne. That's NPR's Anne Garrels talking to us from Baghdad. Bye-bye now.

GARRELS: Bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anne Garrels