Offensive Targets Al-Qaeda In Iraq
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
BAGHDAD, June 19 -- Thousands of U.S. troops waged a new offensive against al-Qaeda in Iraq north of the capital Tuesday, focusing in particular on the extremist group's bombmaking facilities, while at least 60 people were killed and more than 85 wounded in a massive suicide truck blast at a Baghdad mosque, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.
American officials have said that the majority of car and truck bombs are built outside the capital by members of al-Qaeda in Iraq, the Sunni-dominated insurgent group. But a preliminary investigation showed that the truck used in Tuesday's blast was rigged with TNT a little less than a mile from where it exploded, near the Shiite al-Khilani mosque.
If that proves to be the case, it would mean that al-Qaeda in Iraq has shifted strategies once again, this time in reaction to increased security efforts meant to control access to Baghdad.
In an interview on state-run al-Iraqiya television, Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi spokesman for the four-month-old Baghdad security plan, suggested as much, saying that insurgents are now building car bombs inside Baghdad, hoping to avoid driving through the city and being detected at newly erected security checkpoints.
The stepped-up military operations in and around Baghdad were made possible by the deployment of almost 28,500 additional U.S. troops over the last four months. The buildup is meant to curb violence in Baghdad, but U.S. officials and military analysts have long warned that its success would hinge on pacifying the belt around the city.
The newest U.S. operation, "Arrowhead Ripper," is taking place in Diyala province, a mixed Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish region bordering Iran that recently has become the most violent area in Iraq outside of the capital. U.S. officials said the offensive is expected to last at least 30 to 60 days.
Col. Christopher C. Garver, a U.S. military spokesman, said the bombing Tuesday "demonstrates why Arrowhead Ripper and other operations we'll be conducting this summer are so important."
"We have to find the car bombs and suicide bombers to prevent this from happening," he said.
About 10,000 soldiers are involved in Arrowhead Ripper, making it one of the largest military operations since the Iraq war began more than four years ago. It is focused around the city of Baqubah, located about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. The area has become a key stronghold for al-Qaeda in Iraq, a flash point for sectarian and ethnic violence, and a transit point for money, weapons and munitions from Iran, U.S. officials say.
The offensive began under cover of darkness "with a quick-strike nighttime air assault" by the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, a U.S. military statement said.
Lt. Col. Joseph Davidson, executive officer of the 2nd Infantry Division, said in a telephone interview that about 4,000 U.S. combat troops began flushing out insurgents in western Baqubah, where there was an "entrenched population" of al-Qaeda fighters. He said the group had set up fighting positions across the city, lacing its streets with powerful "deep-buried" bombs capable of destroying U.S. armored vehicles.
Davidson said that about 3,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers were expected to take part in the offensive and that U.S. forces also were partnering with Sunni insurgents from the 1920 Revolution Brigades, which includes former members of ousted president Saddam Hussein's disbanded army.