Marines continued to return hostile fire in Fallujah Friday despite an official U.S. suspension of military operations in a city in Iraq's Sunni Triangle that's proven to be one of the most violent to the coalition.
And, on the one-year anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, the U.S. military also announced it was retaking control of Kut, the southern Iraqi city held for several days by the militia of anti-American radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search).
That news came as the U.S. military announced that one soldier and an Iraqi driver were killed Friday when insurgents hit a fuel convoy on the western edge of Baghdad. A second soldier was killed in an attack using roadside bombs and small arms at Camp Cook, a U.S. base in northern Baghdad, the military said.
Senior sources at the Dept. of Defense confirmed that two U.S. soldiers and "several contractors" were listed as "unaccounted for" in today's fuel convoy attack west of Baghdad.
The suspension of military offensive actions was initiated by U.S. forces to allow for talks between all parties and to allow the residents of Fallujah to bury the dead and tend to the injured.
At least 450 Iraqis were killed and more than 1,000 wounded in fighting in the city of Fallujah this week, hospital officials said. The U.S. death toll across Iraq this week has reached 46.
At least 643 U.S. soldiers have died in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.
"As of noon today coalition forces have initiated a unilateral suspension of offensive operations in Fallujah to allow for a meeting between members of the Governing Council, local Muslim leadership and the leadership of anti-coalition forces," the top U.S. civilian administrator, L. Paul Bremer, said Friday.
The coalition was also letting women and children out of the city, but men of military age were to remain. But while the formal suspension was ongoing, U.S. forces were still coming under insurgent fire, so they returned it.
After dark Friday, the U.S. military called in airstrikes from AC-130 gunships.
"Should these discussions break down, the coalition military forces are prepared to go back on the offense in military operations," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, deputy head of operations in Iraq, said earlier Friday. "At no time ... do soldiers forfeit their inherent right to defense ... if fired upon, they will fire back."
The insurgents launched more attacks after the suspension announcement, Los Angeles Times reporter Tony Perry told Fox News from Fallujah. The camp he was in came under mortar and small-arms fire, he said, "to a greater degree in those hours after that announcement than it had been in the previous week."
"If it was temporarily suspended it was one of the most temporary suspensions you can ever imagine," Perry said. "Fighting has continued all day because there's only really one party willing to agree to suspend offensive operation — that of course is the Marines."
He added that the Marines are engaging insurgents in Fallujah "effectively — defensively when the insurgents violate 7 p.m. curfew." Insurgents also attacked a humanitarian convoy, Perry said.
In other news:
— The U.S. military reported six more American service members killed in Iraq.
— A mortar round landed close to Baghdad's Sheraton Hotel beside Firdos Square. No one was hurt.
— The Lebanese Al Hayat-LBC satellite channel said it received a letter from the Mohammadi Jihad Brigades, claiming responsibility for kidnapping foreigners in Iraq. The group wants the U.S. blockade around Fallujah lifted in exchange for the release of the foreigners.
— Insurgents said they seized four Italians and two Americans on the western outskirts of Baghdad in a mosque in a village in the Abu Ghraib district.
— Gunmen were seen stopping a car carrying two Western civilians, apparently private security guards. The gunmen pulled the men from the car, firing at the ground to warn them to obey.
— A U.S. helicopter struck al-Sadr's main office in Kut, killing two people, witnesses said. Americans were patrolling the streets during daylight hours.
— Polish and Bulgarian troops in Karbala battled with al-Sadr fighters through the night under dawn Friday, witnesses said.
— Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi vowed not to withdraw 530 troops doing reconstruction work in the south after kidnappers threatened to burn three Japanese captives alive.
— The al-Mahdi Army denied involvement in any of the kidnappings.
Al-Sadr Threatens 'Civil Revolt'
The announcement of the Kut takeover came shortly after the launch of Operation Resolute Sword - a new U.S.-led operation to eliminate the al-Mahdi Army militia led by the cleric al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr on Friday demanded U.S. forces leave Iraq, saying they now face "a civil revolt."
"I direct my speech to my enemy Bush and I tell him that if your excuse was that you are fighting Saddam, then this thing is a past and now you are fighting the entire Iraqi people," al-Sadr said in a sermon, delivered by one of his deputies at the Imam Ali Shrine, Shiite Islam's holiest site, in Najaf.
Al-Sadr's militia had taken control of the southern cities of Kufa and the central part of Najaf.
Ukrainian troops in Kut, 95 miles southeast of Baghdad, abandoned their base Wednesday in the face of mortar fire and gunbattles, allowing al-Mahdi Army fighters to sweep in and plant their flag.
But Kimmitt said that by Saturday morning, coalition forces should have "firm control" of Kut.
Streets in Baghdad were quiet Friday, a year after U.S. Marines surrounded by cheering Iraqis pulled down the huge statue of Saddam Hussein at Firdos Square in the central part of the city.
U.S. soldiers used loud speakers to warn people in Arabic that if they had weapons, they would be shot.
The two-front, insurgency - Sunni rebels in the west and Shiite guerrillas in central and southern regions - further threatens Iraqi security as the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority prepares to hand sovereignty on June 30.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he never thought Iraq would be in its current state.
"I thought that they would go from some good days and some bad days. There is no doubt that the current situation is very serious and it is the most serious that we have faced," Straw told the BBC.
U.S. Allies Staying In
Two Japanese aid workers and a journalist were still being held captive, as were two Arab aid workers from Jerusalem and a Syrian-born Canadian humanitarian aid worker.
Seven South Korean Christian missionaries also were seized outside Baghdad on Thursday but were released unharmed.
Seoul government leaders stood by plans to send 3,600 troops to Iraq, but placed a travel ban on civilians going there.
Other Asian U.S. allies echoed that sentiment, although Thailand said a further deterioration of the situation may force a pullout of its 443 troops in Karbala.
U.S. Contractors: 'We Were Set Up'
The U.S. siege of Fallujah was in its fifth day on Friday, although troops opened the blockade for a convoy carrying food and medicine sent by Sunni clerics in Baghdad.
One of the most pro-American members of the U.S.-picked Governing Council, Adnan Pachachi, condemned the Fallujah operation.
"These operations were a mass punishment for the people of Fallujah," Pachachi told Al-Arabiya TV. "It was not right to punish all the people of Fallujah and we consider these operations by the Americans unacceptable and illegal."
The operation was in response to the brutal treatment of the bodies of four Americans contractors last week. After the Americans were killed, their bodies were burned, dragged through the streets of Fallujah and hung from a bridge.
The contractors were lured into an ambush by members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, Patrick Toohey of the security firm, Blackwater USA, told the New York Times Friday.
The men were working for Blackwater when their vehicle came under RPG attacks.
"The truth is, we got led into this ambush," Toohey told the Times. "We were set up."
The Pentagon said a separate military inquiry was continuing.
Fox News' David Lee Miller and the Associated Press contributed to this report.