U.S. launches assault on strongholds near Syrian border

Monday, November 1, 2004

BAGHDAD The United States has launched a military offensive near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

U.S. officials said the military offensive focused on several major Sunni insurgency strongholds in the Anbar province, which borders Syria.

They said the strongholds comprised Faluja and Ramadi, two cities said to be controlled by insurgents, particularly those loyal to the former Saddam Hussein regime as well as Abu Mussib Al Zarqawi.

[On Monday, 18 people were killed when a rocket slammed into a hotel in Tikrit, Middle East Newsline reported. The U.S. military said the rocket was apparently fired by insurgents in an attack on a U.S. military camp in the city.]

U.S. fighter-jets struck suspected Al Zarqawi strongholds in Faluja on Sunday while insurgents countered with mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. Faluja was said to be the base of Al Zarqawi.

In Ramadi, 50 kilometers west of Faluja, about 2,000 U.S. forces struck insurgency strongholds in the city.

At least nine U.S. Marines were killed in fighting over the weekend, regarded as the heaviest in weeks around Faluja. Another nine were reportedly injured in preparations for what appeared to be a ground offensive against Faluja, which harbors about 2,000 insurgents. On Monday, residents were said to be fleeing Faluja to avoid being entangled in the expected U.S. attack.

So far, about 3,000 suspected insurgents have been captured in Iraq over the last week. Officials said they were identified largely as members of the former Saddam regime and loyal to former Vice President Izzet Ibrahim Al Douri.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Alawi said Al Douri's deputy and his assistant were captured in the operation. The prime minister told a news conference on Sunday that the Iraqi military operation was continuing.

"In a very short time we have arrested 3,000 gunmen who were working under Izzat Al Douri," Prime Minister Iyad Alawi said.

Alawi said Iraqi authorities also arrested 167 suspected Islamist insurgents over the past few weeks. The prime minister said most of them were foreign Arab nationals and included four senior Tawhid operatives. The operatives were identified as Abu Anas Al Shami, a Palestinian, Abu Mohammed Al Lubnani, from Lebanon, Abu Ahmed Al Tabuki, from Saudi Arabia and Abu Omar Al Masri, an Egyptian.

"Anyone who does not fulfill Iraqi government decisions in terms of the rule of law will be pursued," Alawi said.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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