ARLINGTON, Va. — Insurgents in Fallujah are now resorting to skirmishing in groups of two to six fighters, with commanders who seem only loosely organized, the second-ranking U.S. leader in Iraq said Tuesday.

“Our forces continue to encounter resistance,” Lt. Gen. Thomas F. Metz said from Baghdad via teleconference. The enemy is “fighting in small groups as our forces press the attack.”

“I personally believe some of the senior leaders have fled,” Metz said, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of the Iraqi resistance forces. “I would hope not, but I would have to believe [the insurgents understand] the combat power we can bring” to bear.

There remain “leaders in Fallujah who are orchestrating [the fight] to the best of the ability,” Metz said, “but they are fighting in very small groups without much coherence to the defense. I think the enemy is fighting hard, but not to the death, and they are continuing to fall back.”

At the same time, the U.S. Marines, soldiers, and other coalition forces are encountering far fewer improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, than they expected.

“We are pleasantly enjoying less IEDs than we thought going through preparation and planning,” Metz said.

Meanwhile, no suicide car bombers have attempted an attack, he said.

“We haven’t seen any vehicle-borne IEDs,” he said.

While he refused to say how much longer the fight would last, saying that while “I think we’re looking at several more days of tough urban fighting,” he is also “very pleased with the situation we’re facing.”

“I would see that the coming days will tell us whether or not the enemy is thickening as he moves back into the city,” Metz said. “As the [battle] tempo goes through tonight or tomorrow, we will have a much better feel [for whether it will be a] consistent fight from here on in.”

But so far, “All of the coalition force’s objectives have been accomplished on or ahead of schedule,” Metz said.

With the main battle in Fallujah in its 48th hour when Metz spoke to reporters, the three-star refused to say how many casualties, either enemy or coalition, have died so far in “al Jabar,” or “New Dawn” in Arabic.

“Friendly casualties are light,” Metz said. “I am pleased by that.”

Pressed by reporters for more detail, Metz said, “You can count our casualties in certainly a dozen [but] I would not want to characterize it beyond that. I would like to keep it at a figure that is low, and not state it … because things may go up and fluctuate over time … .”

Enemy casualties, meanwhile, “are significantly higher than expected,” Metz said, but again refused to estimate number of deaths, saying, “we have not so far in Operational Iraqi Freedom, nor will we start, body counting.

“But we have imposed significant casualties on the enemy.”

Meanwhile, “Iraq forces have performed admirably, as an integral part” of the battle force, Metz said, despite reports Monday by an embedded National Public Radio reporter that one Iraqi unit that was supposed to fight shrank by 500 men who resigned their positions over the weekend.

Metz has been the second-ranking U.S. leader in Iraq since the war, during which he commanded III Corps. He was named to his current position in July.

He made news briefly in March while visiting the Tikrit headquarters of his corps’ 4th Infantry Division, saying he believed U.S. troops would be in Iraq until 2006.

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