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Red Cross gets first look at war-ravaged Fallujah

BAGHDAD -- For the first time since a US-led offensive devastated Fallujah, a Red Cross team entered the city and met with Iraqi technicians and engineers to discuss sewage and water treatment needs, a group spokesman said yesterday.

But the team, which entered Fallujah Tuesday, did not have time to inspect a potato chip warehouse where the military said the bodies of several hundred insurgents or civilians were stored.

The team had wanted to visit the site to verify the number of dead.

''We couldn't reach the warehouse because of the time limitations," said Ahmed Rawi, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross who went on the trip. ''The ICRC will follow up this issue with the concerned authorities in terms of documenting and then burying the bodies."

Rawi said the Red Cross team's movement in Fallujah was limited because of a curfew and because it had to get out before dark. During the time the group was there, the city was mostly quiet except for some sporadic gunfire in the distance, he said.

He said he didn't know where the warehouse was located, but seemed to be referring to a former potato chip factory on the outskirts of the city that has been doubling as a temporary morgue for the bodies that US military officials say are of insurgents killed in the fighting in Fallujah. But US officials have acknowledged some of the bodies are too badly decomposed to be identified.

Dozens of bodies in black bags remain in the factory, which has an antiquated refrigeration system. Marines say that the bodies are being treated according to Islamic traditions, with Muslim clerics showing them the proper way to bury the corpses.

The US military said that 1,200 insurgents were killed in the invasion, which began on Nov. 8 and ended a week later. At least 50 Marines and eight Iraqi soldiers were killed, while no civilian casualty figures have been released.

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