Many claimed an attack like this would not be seen until after the US election. The theory was that Bush would not risk casualties because votes would be lost. The assault on Samarra proves that theory wrong. U.S, Iraqi Forces Reclaim Much of City of Samarra By Thomas S. Mulligan, Times Staff Writer From the LA Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/iraq/la-fg-samarra2oct02,1,1043204.story?coll=la-home-headlines BAGHDAD U.S. and Iraqi forces fought block by block Friday into the center of rebel-held Samarra in what is likely to be the first in a series of major attacks to seize and stabilize insurgent hot spots before the January election. By nightfall, Iraqi officials said, the combined force several thousand troops of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division, the Iraqi army and Iraqi national guard had secured about three-quarters of the city, including government buildings, police headquarters, a pharmaceuticals factory and an important religious shrine. Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad, is in the Sunni Triangle, a hotbed of resistance north and west of Baghdad that is home to many Sunni Muslim supporters of the Baathist regime of ousted President Saddam Hussein. U.S. and Iraqi officials said they had killed more than 100 insurgents and captured 37 in the fighting, but hospital officials put the number of deaths around 20. One American soldier was killed and four were injured, military authorities said. Conflicting casualty estimates are common in Iraq, especially in insurgent strongholds where it is almost impossible for foreign media to operate. Officials at the Pentagon and National Security Council confirmed that the Samarra offensive was the beginning of a campaign to secure Iraq's most dangerous cities before the elections. U.S. and Iraqi officials insist that balloting will take place throughout the country, despite Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's comments last week that some parts of Iraq might have to be excluded. Other likely military targets before the election include Ramadi and Fallouja, two other Sunni Triangle cities west of Baghdad, and the sprawling Sadr City district of Baghdad, which is a stronghold of radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr. Regaining control of Samarra has been a U.S. military priority for more than a month, but plans for the offensive were put on hold in August in order to clear Sadr's militia out of the Shiite holy city of Najaf, south of the capital. With the election approaching, the Iraqi government signed off on a proposed U.S. offensive in Samarra. Even after losing several weeks, commanders hope the city can be cleared of insurgent pockets by January. "There still may be enough time to get there for Samarra," a senior military official in Baghdad said. But commanders are uncertain whether they will be able to gain control of all insurgent-controlled areas before the election. "If we wait for a day in Iraq when everything's perfect, that day is not going to come," a senior defense official in Washington said. Fighting in Samarra started about midnight near a bridge over the Tigris River, where U.S. soldiers spotted insurgents in speedboats dropping off ordnance on the river bank. Two boats were destroyed and several rebels killed in an exchange of fire, military officials said. As U.S. and Iraqi troops pushed into the city, guerrillas attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms. U.S. forces freed a Turkish worker who was being held hostage in Samarra. Iraqi national security director Kasim Daoud said in a televised news conference Friday evening that he and other senior officials of the interim government had met Sunday in Baghdad with more than 100 religious, tribal, political and professional leaders from Samarra, who "asked us to help them get rid of these terrorists." Daoud acknowledged that the assault would have gone forward even if the Samarra delegation had objected. "It is our duty to clean this city," he said. Samarra has been mainly in rebel hands since May, when U.S. forces stopped patrolling there at the request of sheiks who thought their presence was provoking the insurgents. On Sept. 9, a smaller U.S. force entered Samarra and helped reestablish a city council loyal to interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, guarded by Iraqi security forces. The U.S. troops, lacking a secure base, did not spend the night, but resumed patrols. U.S. and Iraqi officials hoped that a political solution could be worked out for Samarra, but the effort failed. "The local government buckled under pressure from the insurgents," said the senior military official in Baghdad. Daoud said that Iraqi security forces would not be able to hold Samarra on their own, so a continuing U.S. presence would be required. He added that the Iraqi army and national guard are adding trained troops and increasing in strength, and that they soon should be able to simultaneously conduct multiple operations. Iraqi and U.S. officials made it clear Friday that military gains needed to be followed quickly by reconstruction of damaged infrastructure and other measures to revive the moribund economies of cities such as Samarra, to show the population tangible benefits of the military offensives. A senior U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said Friday that a "forward team" had been moved to Najaf to assess the problems and help accelerate reconstruction. The center of Najaf was heavily damaged during the assault on Sadr loyalists in August. Friday prayer services at the Imam Ali shrine, one of the holiest sites for Shiite Muslims, have been curtailed since the fighting. As many as 1 million pilgrims visit the site annually. The shrine was open Friday, and a small number of people visited, but it was decided not to hold regular Friday prayers because of the security problems. Fighting continued Friday in Sadr City, where U.S.-led forces have been pounding suspected Sadr loyalists for several days. An employee at Chawader Hospital said it had received five dead and 13 injured people. Times staff writer Mark Mazzetti in Washington and a special correspondent in Sadr City contributed to this report.