US forces pound Fallujah militants

Last updated at 11:04 19 October 2004

US forces freed the police chief of the rebel-held city of Falluja today after warplanes bombed what the military said were houses and arms dumps used by America's top enemy in Iraq.

There was no word on casualties in the overnight raids, the latest in a drive against militants led by declared Al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said to be operating from Falluja.

The police chief, Sabar al-Janabi, and his colleagues were detained on Friday with the city's chief negotiator, Khaled al-Jumaili, who was released early on Monday.

The US military gave no reason for the arrests and never confirmed it was holding the four men.

They were seized as they were moving their families away from Falluja for safety.

Townspeople called off a demonstration set for Tuesday to demand the policemen's release. Police in Falluja do not answer to the interim government in Baghdad.

The US-backed government, threatening to attack Falluja unless Zarqawi's men are handed over, plans a nationwide arms amnesty to start next week as part of its drive to pacify all of Iraq before parliamentary elections due in January.

The United States is doing all it can to enable Iraqis to conduct the polls, Secretary of State Colin Powell told USA Today newspaper in an interview published today.

"It's still possible to have the kind of election we want to have by the end of January. The key is security and building up Iraqi forces to make them competent, fully equipped and able to do the job," he said.