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Wednesday, April 14

Cease-fire violations frustrate Marines

By Gidget Fuentes | Marine Corps Times

FALLUJAH, Iraq - The commander of a Marine Corps division poised to resume fighting in this city where a wavering cease-fire has been in place vowed Wednesday to wipe out anti-coalition forces and reopen the city.

More than three Marine battalions, reinforced with tanks, armored vehicles and warplanes, have been holding their lines since the top military command in Iraq ordered a temporary cessation in offensive operations on April 9.

Although the Marines have allowed some food and supplies into the beleaguered city, "our concern right now is what`s happening to the innocent people the longer we stay here," said Maj. Gen. James N. Mattis, who commands the 1st Marine Division, a 22,000-member force based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Mattis spoke with reporters at the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment`s outposts on one edge of Fallujah.

"Eventually we have got to open this town up," he said. More than 60,000 residents fled after the Marines entered the city west of Baghdad last week.

Although Fallujah has garnered much attention in the past week, Mattis' fighting force, along with an Army brigade, is spread throughout the Anbar Province, from east of Fallujah to the Syrian border. At every camp and on many combat patrols and civil reconstruction projects, Marines and soldiers have been under constant attack despite the cease-fire.

"I tell you right now, that if they move against my men, if they fire against my men, we will respond with decisive force," Mattis said. ``We are not going to permit them to get in some cheap shots and then have us play by certain rules that they want to be violated."

Hours before dawn Wednesday, an AC-130 Spectre gunship fired dozens of artillery rounds at two targets.

A battalion operations officer said the targets included a "safe house" and weapons cache believed used by enemy fighters that had regularly attacked one of the infantry companies. A second building that contained weapons.

For an hour, sounds of the cannons fired by unseen aircraft echoed across the battalion`s outpost, followed by the whizzing of rounds slicing through the air and the subsequent booms in the distance.

Throughout the morning, like previous days, Marines encountered sporadic sniper and rocket fire. At one point, a mortar landed about 75 meters from an infantry position in a warehouse area of the city, but no one was injured.

Marines moved on Fallujah after March 31, when four American security workers were ambushed, killed and mutilated in the city.