Reuters & CNN – 2006-03-16 23:33:16
US Launches Air Offensive in Iraq
(March 16, 2006) — US forces, joined by Iraqi troops, have launched the largest air assault since the US-led invasion, targeting insurgent strongholds north of the capital.
The US military said on Thursday that the offensive dubbed Operation Swarmer was aimed at clearing “a suspected insurgent operating area” northeast of Samarra and was expected to continue over several days.
“More than 1500 Iraqi and Coalition troops, over 200 tactical vehicles, and more than 50 aircraft participated in the operation,” the military statement said.
Samarra, about 95km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, was the site of a bombing against a Shia shrine on 22 February that touched off sectarian bloodshed and killed more than 500 and wounded hundreds more.
It is a key city in Salahuddin province, a major part of the so-called Sunni triangle where insurgents have been active since shortly after the US-led invasion three years ago.
Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s interim foreign minister, said the attack was necessary to prevent insurgents from forming a new stronghold such as they had established in Falluja, west of Baghdad.
“After Falluja and some of the operations carried out successfully in the Euphrates and Syrian border, many of the insurgents moved to areas nearer to Baghdad,” Zebari said on CNN. “They have to be pulled out by the roots.”
north of Samarra said that there was a heavy US and Iraqi troop presence in the area and that large explosions could be heard in the distance.
They said the operation appeared to be concentrated near four villages – Jillam, Mamlaha, Banat Hassan and Bukaddou – near the highway leading north from Samarra to the city of Adwar. It was not clear whether the operation had met resistance or whether the US aircraft had conducted any attacks.
Waqas al-Juwanya, a spokesman for the provincial government’s joint coordination centre in nearby Dowr, said “unknown gunmen exist in this area, killing and kidnapping policemen, soldiers and civilians”.
Near the end of the first day of the operation, the military said a number of weapons caches have been captured, containing artillery shells, explosives, bomb-making materials and military uniforms.
Police have meanwhile discovered 29 more bodies discarded in various parts of Baghdad late on Wednesday and Thursday. The victims were all men, some with their hands bound, who had been shot execution-style and dumped in both Shia and Sunni Muslim neighbourhoods, said Lieutenant Colonel Falah al-Mohammedawi.
North of the capital, a roadside bomb exploded near a girl’s primary school near Baqouba, killing three students aged 12-13 and wounding two others, police said.
Another bomb missed a US patrol in Mosul, killing one civilian and wounding three others, police said. Four more people were killed in a drive-by shooting in the city.
In Ramadi, residents picked through the rubble of a home they said was destroyed in a US raid. Residents have reported repeated clashes in the city in an insurgent-plagued area west of Baghdad.
Recent AP Television News video showed a gunbattle in which a gasoline truck was set on fire and at a separate location the killing of an unidentified man with heavy gunfire audible in the background. The US military has not responded to repeated requests for information.
US Launches Largest Iraqi Air Assault Since Invasion
BAGHDAD (March 16, 2006) — US and Iraqi forces on Thursday launched the largest air assault operation since the invasion of Iraq nearly three years ago, the US military said.
More than 50 aircraft are involved in Operation Swarmer, supporting more than 1,500 Iraqi and US troops near Samarra, about 75 miles (121 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
The aircraft also delivered troops from the Iraq and US armies to “multiple objectives.” Commandos then raided several structures in the area, the news release said.
The offensive began Thursday morning in southern Salaheddin province “to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra,” the site of the bombing of the Shiite shrine that escalated sectarian tensions and pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
The operation is expected to last several days while the military searches for insurgents and weapons stockpiles.
Bodies Found in Baghdad
The death toll from apparent reprisal killings rose in Baghdad when Iraqi Emergency Police said they had found 31 bodies across the capital, 25 on Wednesday and another 6 on Thursday.
Since a string of car bombings in a poor Shiite neighborhood killed at least 46 people Sunday, police have reported finding the results of grisly execution-style slayings every day. The latest discoveries came during a vehicle curfew in the capital. More than 160 bodies have been recovered since Sunday, many found shot to death and some of which have shown signs of torture.
In northern Iraq, one person was killed and three injured in demonstrations marking the 18th anniversary of the gassing to death of thousands of Kurds in Halabja, police and hospital officials said.
Diyala province, north of Baghdad, continued to be a hotbed of violence. In Khalis, a roadside bomb killed three girls and wounded five boys Thursday afternoon as students were leaving school, an official with Diyala’s Provincial Joint Coordination Center said.
A roadside bomb in Muqtadya exploded near an Iraqi police patrol, wounding seven officers and one civilian, the official said. In the provincial capital of Baquba, a gunmen killed one civilian and wounded another.
Brief Start to Parliament
Iraq’s newly elected parliament met for the first time Thursday and adjourned after only 30 minutes.
The lawmakers were sworn in amid tight security, but that was about all the new body was able to accomplish. The meeting begins the 60-day countdown during which time a president, two vice presidents and a prime minister will be selected.
The process likely will be difficult. The nominee for prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, currently serving as interim prime minister, is controversial with many Sunni, Kurdish and secular Shiite lawmakers and their constituents.
The death of a 24-year-old male detainee at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison Wednesday afternoon is being investigated. The prisoner died of “apparent natural causes,” a US military statement said. The prisoner was found unconscious and CPR efforts failed, the military said.
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