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Military Plans Counteroffensive In Response to Deaths in Iraq

By Thanassis Cambanis and Bryan Bender

The Boston Globe -- BAGHDAD

American military commanders Thursday said they would respond to the mutilation of four American contractors in the city of Fallujah by launching an overwhelming counteroffensive against Iraqi insurgents, but would not rush in and make the situation worse.

Taking the unusual step of telegraphing their plans, military officials said U.S. forces would soon return to the center of Fallujah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad. They said they would rely on a combination of pinpoint raids and rewards for the local population that has helped quell unrest in some Iraqi cities.

U.S. forces recently ceded much of the control of the town to Iraqi police, even though it is in the heart of the so-called Sunni Triangle, which has seen the most violent resistance to the U.S.-led occupation.

“We will be back in Fallujah,” Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said in Baghdad. “It will be at the time and place of our choosing. We will hunt down the criminals. We will kill them, or we will capture them. And we will pacify Fallujah.”

Kimmitt’s pledge to catch and punish those who carried out the gruesome attacks and desecrated the bodies contrasted with the cautious U.S. response in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, when American troops did not intervene. It also highlighted the conundrum Fallujah has posed through three troop rotations.

American military strategists have repeatedly failed to solve the puzzle of the Sunni Triangle insurgents, who have fought on relentlessly as commanders have tried to crush them with force, win them over with public works projects, woo them with political power, and most recently avoid them by withdrawing to the city’s fringes.

Thursday, Marines continued to be cautious in their response to the gruesome attacks, staying out of the central city. News reports said Iraqi police retrieved the charred remains of the four Americans hours later, at the request of the U.S. military.