Baghdad, Iraq — U.S. and Iraqi representatives agreed on a preliminary plan for a full cease-fire in the embattled city of Fallujah, even as insurgent attacks on Marine positions continued late into Monday evening.
Marines besieging the city agreed not to resume their offensive into the heart of the town if "all persons" turned in their rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, missiles and other heavy weapons. Residents can keep their AK-47 assault rifles for personal protection, the Marines said.
The joint communique from U.S. and Iraqi leaders who have been negotiating the fate of Fallujah also modified the terms of the U.S.-imposed curfew, allowing access for the sick and wounded to hospitals and pledging to facilitate the burial of the dead, among other steps. As of today, 50 civilian families a day are to be allowed to enter the encircled city, which experienced a mass exodus during the initial Marine strike.
U.S. officials stressed that Marines could quickly launch an assault deep into the city's urban core if insurgents do not disarm. "There is also a very clear understanding ... that should this agreement not go through, Marine forces are more than prepared to carry through with military operations," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the coalition's chief military spokesman, said at a Baghdad news briefing.
U.S. officials also appear to be seeking a negotiated resolution of the other pending Iraqi crisis -- the Army's determination to capture or kill Muqtada al-Sadr, a militant Shiite Muslim cleric allegedly implicated in the murder of a fellow holy man last spring. Thousands of militiamen have taken up al-Sadr's cause and vowed to battle U.S. forces to the death.
The Army has put off for the time being plans to send a force into the holy city of Najaf, where al-Sadr and his closest advisers are believed to be holed up. Even moderate Shiite clerics have warned such a step could escalate violence among al-Sadr's followers and others enraged by any such U.S. move.
"We can wait," said Col. Dana J.H. Pittard, who heads an Army force of more than 2,000 soldiers recently deployed outside Najaf. "They will still be there. Ultimately we still want Iraqis to solve this problem."
In other developments on Iraq and in the war on terror:
- As of Monday, 706 U.S. service members have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq last year, according to the Department of Defense. Of those, 509 died as a result of hostile action and 197 died of nonhostile causes.
Since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 566 U.S. soldiers have died -- 398 as a result of hostile action and 168 of nonhostile causes.
- President Bush Monday nominated John D. Negroponte, the top U.S. diplomat at the United Nations, to be the new American ambassador to Iraq. He would head the largest U.S. diplomatic mission in history.
- Charges that the Bush administration had diverted $700 million to prepare for a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq without informing Congress drew criticism Monday from congressional Democrats, while Republicans contended that Congress had given the administration "unprecedented flexibility" in spending after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the administration "owes Congress a full, detailed and immediate accounting."
Questions were raised because a new book by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward says President Bush "approved 30 projects that would eventually cost $700 million" by the end of July 2002 in preparation for the war, and that some of that money came from appropriations for the war on terrorism.
- Federal authorities will begin nationwide preparations to counter the threat of terrorist attacks aimed at the national political conventions and the U.S. presidential election, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Monday.
- Representatives of the U.S.-funded television station, Al-Iraqiya, said U.S. troops shot and killed a correspondent and his driver near the northern city of Samarra. A military spokesman said the incident was being investigated.