Troops Pushing South Through Insurgent Area

By Joshua Partlow and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 22, 2007

PATROL BASE MURRAY, Iraq, June 21 -- More than 1,200 American soldiers are pushing south along the Tigris River through a Sunni insurgent haven known as Arab Jubour, a formidable operation that is part of an overall U.S. strategy to take control of the terrain encircling the capital.

In Baqubah, north of Baghdad, Americans are fighting in city streets to detain insurgents and destroy their bomb-making facilities. In Arab Jubour, south of the capital, they are moving amid dense palm groves and along dusty canal roads in a grinding door-to-door search that began Saturday.

The operations, involving thousands of additional U.S. troops, came as the military announced the deaths of 14 soldiers and Marines in five attacks since Tuesday, bringing the total for that period to 15. Nine of the soldiers were killed by two large roadside bombs in Baghdad. Two died near Arab Jubour when explosives buried under a dirt road destroyed their Bradley Fighting Vehicle on Tuesday.

In the first week of the southern offensive, known as Marne Torch, five suspected insurgents have been killed and more than 60 others detained. Another U.S. soldier involved in the operation was killed Monday.

"The enemy is very talented out here. There is no doubt he has his game on," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Adgie, commander of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division, whose soldiers are leading the ground effort here. "It's going to be a long summer." More than 2,000 American troops overall are taking part in the operation, along with about 1,000 Iraqi soldiers.

In past large-scale assaults, U.S. soldiers frequently descended on suspected enemy hideouts only to find that many of the male adults had fled. This time, attack aircraft have dropped thunderous explosives on roads to cut off escape routes. They have destroyed at least 17 boats on the Tigris that soldiers suspected were being used to ferry munitions north to Baghdad. Two other brigades operating on the eastern and western flanks of the Marne Torch operation are trying to keep fighters from leaving the area.

"The key is, we've got to prevent him from moving, and prevent him from the ability to move into Baghdad to create these spectacular attacks," said Col. Terry Ferrell, the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division, the last of the five new combat brigades to arrive as part of President Bush's troop increase. "We've got to deny him the ability to go somewhere else."

Arab Jubour, almost exclusively Sunni, was home to many prominent members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. For the past year, U.S. soldiers have rarely spent more than a couple of days in the area, commanders said, so insurgents were able to rig a lethal defense of roadside bombs throughout the area.

As in other parts of the country, the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq has conducted a repressive campaign of killing and kidnapping among the roughly 3,000 residents of Arab Jubour. Many people have told commanders they fear cooperating with Americans only to be left to the mercy of al-Qaeda in Iraq when the Americans leave. "They truly are scared to death," Adgie said.

"No one has ever stayed," Ferrell said. "We're going in. We're going to kill, capture and defeat that threat. But we're not leaving."

Throughout the operation, B-1 bombers, F-16 fighter jets and other aircraft have bombed roads and suspected weapons storage sites. Eight 2,000-pound bombs were dropped the first night, said Capt. Kevin Carrigan, the brigade's air liaison officer. Screaming jets are flying low across the area in what he called a show of force to intimidate the enemy.

"We took away two weapons caches and we took away their movement," he said. "We're now really surging to try to get things in control here, but it's going to be difficult."

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