Baghdad, Iraq – U.S. troops battled insurgents Tuesday in a major city west of Baghdad after the U.S. command said it destroyed several weapons storage sites and safehouses of terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (search) in the militant bastion Fallujah (search).
The two operations were part of a stepped up campaign to curb Sunni Muslim extremists (search) before January's national elections and bring the volatile region west of the capital under government control.
On Tuesday, Iraqi officials in Baghdad said that more than 100 Iraqis were killed or wounded when a mortar attack hit an Iraqi National Guard headquarters north of Baghdad.
Six mortar rounds fell on National Guard offices in an early morning attack in Mashahidan, 25 miles north of Baghdad, said Iraqi police and National Guard officers under condition of anonymity.
Residents of Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, said fighting raged near the city hall and a Humvee was ablaze. There were no reports of casualties.
In Baghdad, the U.S. command said the late night attacks in Fallujah occurred around midnight but did not specify whether they were airstrikes.
"Multiple secondary explosions indicate a significant amount of explosives or ammunition inside the houses," the statement said.
It said recent attacks had forced leadership changes in al-Zarqawi's Tawhid and Jihad movement and the strikes late Monday targeted possible replacement leaders. Tawhid and Jihad has claimed responsibility for many car bombings and the beheading of hostages.
The strikes came shortly after Fallujah's chief negotiator, Sheik Khaled al-Jumeili, ruled out any quick resumption of talks to find a peaceful solution to the standoff in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.
In northern Iraq, saboteurs attacked and set on fire a key oil pipeline that connects the Beiji oil refinery with Turkey, police said Tuesday.
The pipeline was hit with explosives late Monday, said a Beiji police officer on condition of anonymity. The attack happened about eight miles from the refinery. Beiji is 155 miles north of Baghdad.
An official at the state-run Northern Oil Company also confirmed the attack but did not give details.
Iraq's oil industry, which provides desperately needed money for Iraq's reconstruction efforts, has been the target of repeated attacks by insurgents in recent months.
Meanwhile, a 1st Infantry Division Soldier died from a non-combat injury at a base in Diyala province, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
The soldier was found at late Sunday in his living quarters after he did not return to his guard post. The incident is under investigation. The name of the soldier is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
In London, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Tuesday that Britain needs to redeploy troops closer to Baghdad so that the insurgency in central Iraq can be dealt with ahead of Iraqi elections.
The government is considering a U.S. request for a small number of British troops to be moved nearer the Iraqi capital to free up American forces for anti-insurgency operations.
Straw said a final decision depended on advice from U.K. military commanders on the ground. Most British troops in Iraq are in the relatively peaceful south of the country, whereas the American sector is far more volatile.
"The security situation in part of the country is very serious, it is of critical importance that the insurgency is dealt with," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"Otherwise ... the elections would be flawed and that is why it is necessary for us to make an additional effort."
National elections are scheduled in Iraq for January, but ongoing violence near Baghdad threatens to prevent voting in many areas and undermine the legitimacy of the whole process.
Britain hasn't said how many troops might be redeployed, or where precisely they would go to. But military sources have said that if the request was granted, Britain's reserve regiment, the 650-strong First Battalion Black Watch, which is stationed near the southern port city of Basra, would be the obvious choice.
In a response to violence, Australia's government said Tuesday that it was moving its embassy in Baghdad into the strife-torn city's heavily fortified Green Zone.
The announcement came less than two days after a car bomb blast close to the Australian embassy in the fashionable Jadiriyah district killed six people late Sunday. No Australians were hurt in the blast, which authorities believe was aimed at an Iraqi police convoy.
The Department of Foreign Affairs briefly confirmed a media report of the move on Tuesday, saying the embassy would be moved in the first half of next year.
Australia has 920 troops in and around Iraq and sent 2,000 to take part in last year's U.S.-led invasion.