A spectacular raid on an Iraqi police station and Army base in which at least 25 people died last week appears to have been carried out by Iraqi guerrillas - not foreign militants, US occupation forces in Iraq say.

The American findings indicate how powerful Iraqi resistance has become: it can tackle American-trained Iraqi security forces head on and defeat them.

The raid, in which insurgents stormed the Iraqi police station in Fallujah, simultaneously keeping Iraqi soldiers in a nearby base pinned down, was the most sophisticated attack yet, and has left the US occupation badly shaken.

All the insurgents killed or captured in the course of the simultaneous attacks in Fallujah appear to be Iraqis, and not foreign militants as the Iraqi police claimed, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, the US Army's deputy chief of operations in Iraq, said yesterday.

He said that reports from the US 82nd Airborne Division in Fallujah, which is investigating the attacks, "indicate that they were all Iraqi citizens". Iraqis being questioned about the attacks include the former mayor of Fallujah, who recently resigned.

Yesterday's findings overshadow American efforts to blame foreign Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda for a series of suicide bombings and other attacks.

The US last week released what it said was a letter from a leading militant in Iraq to al Qaeda leaders asking for help in provoking a civil war between Sunni and Shia in Iraq.

The military's conclusions could also embarrass the American occupation administrator, Paul Bremer, who said on a US talk show on Sunday that foreign militants had been involved in the attacks.

Iraqi police in Fallujah claimed to have found passports and identity papers on four attackers killed in the raids, indicating that three were foreign citizens. The US military says it believes false papers may have been planted as misinformation.

Police claims that Shia Muslims orchestrated the attacks appear unlikely - there has been no Shia resistance - and Fallujah is the heartland of the Sunni resistance.

The US military has tried to pin the raid on former officers in Saddam's Army - but in Fallujah the resistance goes far beyond remnants of the ex-regime.

Almost everybody in the town appears to back the resistance. Graffiti on the main road reads "Death to collaborators," and locals speak openly of their anger at those who have joined the new police and the "Iraqi Civil Defence Corps" - the reconstituted Army - under American command.

The word on the street in Fallujah is that it is unacceptable even to shake hands with the Americans.


Herald Feature: Iraq

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