Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi ordered troops to capture insurgents dead or alive as he paid them a surprise visit shortly before an all-out offensive on the rebel-held city of Fallujah.
"Your job is to arrest the killers but if you kill them, then let it be," Allawi told Iraqi troops at a US base just outside the city. "The people of Fallujah have been taken hostage just like the people of Samarra and you need to free them from their grip," he said, referring to another rebel bastion stormed by US and Iraqi troops last month.
"You need to avenge the victims of the terrorists like the 37 children who were killed in Baghdad and the 49 of your colleagues who were slaughtered," he said, to which one soldier replied: "Yes, we will slaughter them like sheep."
Soon after Allawi's visit, the skies over Fallujah burned red as artillery, warplanes and tanks pounded the city and ground troops moved in on suspected rebel strongholds.
The hawkish premier had warned that time was rapidly running out for government control to be restored peacefully
over the city which had been in the hands of insurgents since April.
Thousands of US troops, backed by armour and a stunning air barrage, attacked Sunni strongholds in Fallujah, launching a long-awaited offensive aimed at putting an end to guerrilla control of the city.
After nightfall on Monday, US troops advanced slowly on the northwestern Jolan neighbourhood, a warren of alleyways where Sunni militant fighters have dug in.
Artillery, tanks and warplanes pounded the district's northern edge, softening the defenses and attempting to set off any bombs and booby traps before troops moved in.
At the same time, another force pushed into the northeastern Askari district, the first large-scale assault into the insurgent-held area of the city, the military said.
Some 5,000 US marines and soldiers were massed in the desert on Fallujah's northern edge participating in the assault.
Meanwhile, the United States White House has said that Iraq will hold national elections in January as planned despite the worsening security situation.
The US was working closely with the Iraqi forces to address the security challenge and "we fully expect it will happen in January, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Monday in a reference to elections scheduled for January.
Solana had on Monday said that the situation in Iraq from the point of view of security does not give much of a hope that elections scheduled for January will be realised.
On the ongoing offensive on Sunni stronghold of Fallujah, McClellan said President George W Bush was involved in all these matters and pointed out that it was a joint operation of the US and Iraqi forces.
He said Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had made it very clear that he was reaching out to people who wanted to participate
in the political process.
"We've made progress in areas like Najaf and Samarra and other areas, and now you see the terrorists and insurgents in Fallujah have rejected a political solution," he said.