To the south, a 2500-strong US force massed on the outskirts of the holy city of Najaf for a showdown with a radical cleric, raising fears of a US attack that would outrage the nation’s relatively pro-US Shiite majority.
Russia said it would evacuate hundreds of its workers from Iraq after an outbreak kidnappings in which at least 22 foreigners still are held captive.
US troops were holding back their full firepower on both fronts to allow Iraqis to try to negotiate a resolution, but President Bush said he was prepared to send more troops and had told his commanders to be ready to use “decisive force.”
With the announcement of the deaths of four more Marines, April became the deadliest month for the US military in Iraq — deadlier even than the invasion launched in March 2003.
Some 880 Iraqis have been killed this month. Among those are more than 600 Iraqis — mostly civilians — killed in Fallujah, according to the city hospital’s director.