U.S. airstrikes target two insurgent-led Iraqi cities

? American warplanes struck militant positions in two insurgent-controlled cities Thursday, and U.S. and Iraqi troops quietly took control of a third in a sweeping crackdown after a spike in attacks against U.S. forces.

More than 60 people were reported killed, most of them in Tal Afar, one of several cities which American officials acknowledged this week had fallen under insurgent control and become “no-go” zones.

Children sit on the roof of their damaged home after an air raid in Fallujah, Iraq. American warplanes fired missiles on a building used by an al-Qaida-linked militant group early Thursday in Fallujah, the U.S. military said. The military said intelligence showed that three associates of Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi were in the area when jets unleashed a precision strike. Dr. Ahmad Thair of the Fallujah General Hospital said five people were killed, including two women and a child, and nine others injured in the strike.

Nine people, including two children, were reported killed in an airstrike in Fallujah against a house which the U.S. command suspected of being used by allies of the Jordanian-born terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. American and Iraqi troops also moved into Samarra for the first time in months.

The robust strikes came during a week in which nearly 20 American troops were killed — pushing the U.S. military death toll in the Iraq campaign above 1,000.

President Bush received a National Security Council briefing on Iraq early Thursday from Gen. John Abizaid, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte and other top officials. White House spokesman Scott McClellan refused to say what they told Bush of the surging violence.

In a statement, the U.S. command said military operations around Tal Afar were designed to rid the city of “a large terrorist element that has displaced local Iraqi security forces throughout the recent weeks.”

The U.S. military said 57 insurgents were killed in the attack on Tal Afar, a northern city near the border with Syria that lies on smuggling routes for weapons and foreign fighters. The provincial health director, Dr. Rabie Yassin, said 27 civilians were killed and 70 wounded. It was unclear whether those reported by the Iraqis as civilians were counted as insurgents by the Americans.

Thursday, the regional government TV station reported Iraqi forces had agreed to allow medical teams to enter Tal Afar to care for the injured but that military operations would continue “until the city is liberated from outsiders and saboteurs so that peace can be restored.”