Wednesday, August 15, 2007


U.S. launches new offensive in Iraq

(Reuters) -- U.S. forces launched a big offensive in Iraq with an overnight airborne assault targeting al Qaeda guerrillas on Tuesday, part of a major new countrywide push. The Americans also raided Baghdad's Shi'ite slum of Sadr City targeting militants they said are linked to Iran. Relatives said a 5-year-old girl was among four killed in the raid.
The military said 16,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops were involved in Operation Lightning Hammer against Sunni Islamist al Qaeda militants in the fertile crescent of the Diyala River which flows from the north into the Tigris near Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers started the operation with a late-night air assault. Its focus was militants who fled an earlier crackdown in the provincial capital Baquba.
"Our main goal with Lightning Hammer is to eliminate the terrorist organisations ... and show them that they truly have no safe haven -- especially in Diyala," Major-General Benjamin Mixon, U.S. commander in northern Iraq, said in a statement. The operation was described as part of a larger countrywide Operation Phantom Strike, which U.S. forces announced on Monday.
They have so far given few details of Phantom Strike. But U.S. military offensives over recent months have been under way in the Tigris and Diyala valleys north of Baghdad and in the Euphrates valley south of the capital. Diyala province is a sectarian patchwork and has seen some of Iraq's worst violence. Police in the Diyala town of Khalis said they found 15 corpses identified as Sunni Arabs, executed by gun shots and dumped on the highway linking Baghdad and Kirkuk.
The United States has sent an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq this year and moved them from large bases into small neighbourhood outposts in an effort to reduce sectarian violence in the capital and surrounding provinces. U.S. forces say they have had success, especially against Sunni Arab militants who were their main enemies for the first three years after the fall of President Saddam Hussein in 2003. But they have faced increasing violence from Shi'ite militia, who they say have ties to Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim neighbour Iran.

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