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U.S. airstrikes kill half of Fallujah terror leaders

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WASHINGTON — American airstrikes in Fallujah have killed at least six senior members of the terrorist network led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant, according to senior Pentagon and military officials, who say the bombing campaign has eliminated about half of the foreign terrorist leadership in the city in the last month.

Even so, these Pentagon, military and intelligence officials concede that because Iraq's border with Syria is porous, foreign fighters may still be able to reach Fallujah.

At the same time, Fallujah residents and international human rights groups have complained of an increasing loss of life among noncombatants in the city. They say rising anger against the U.S. air campaign serves only to strengthen the insurgents' grip.

The Zarqawi network is the target of the attacks, but they are also meant to help the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi drive a wedge between local leaders and the violent resistance.

The Pentagon also hopes that the strikes may create tensions between home-grown Sunni Muslim insurgents in the city and the foreign militant leaders who are targets of the bombing. The relationships between the two camps are only dimly understood.

"There are fault lines you can exploit," said one senior Bush administration official involved in policy-making on Iraq. He said that to the degree that the residents of Fallujah could be pushed to deny sanctuary and assistance to the Zarqawi network, "That's a good thing."

Pentagon and intelligence officials would not discuss exactly how they tracked casualties among Zarqawi's associates in Fallujah, but they said in broad terms that they relied on intercepted communications and information from informants in the city.

If negotiations under way between the Allawi government and local leaders falter, U.S. military commanders say, the airstrikes in recent weeks will have helped soften up the enemy for a possible ground attack.

Military and Defense Department officials say the strikes against the Zarqawi network in and around Fallujah have hampered, though not eliminated, Zarqawi's ability to direct attacks against U.S. and Iraqi security forces.