Tuesday, January 08, 2008

on the offensive once again across iraq

Major Joint US-Iraqi Operation Begins http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-7207411,00.html Tuesday January 8, 2008 12:01 PM By ELENA BECATOROS Associated Press Writer BAGHDAD (AP) - U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a major operation to strike against al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremists, the U.S. military said Tuesday, in an effort to build on a recent overall reduction of violence and push militants from their strongholds. The division and brigade-level operation, dubbed Phantom Phoenix, will cover the entire country, the military said. ``Phantom Phoenix will synchronize lethal and non-lethal effects to exploit recent security gains and disrupt terrorist support zones and enemy command and control,'' the military said in a statement. Violence across Iraq has fallen dramatically in recent months, an improvement attributed to a combination of 30,000 extra troops sent into the Baghdad area; the work of U.S.-backed predominantly Sunni tribal groups who turned against al-Qaida in Iraq; and a cease-fire declared by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for his Mahdi Army militia. ``Al-Qaida in Iraq is attempting to regain strength and establish new support areas in northern Iraq,'' said Lt. Col. James Hutton, a spokesman for the U.S. military. ``AQI has fled its former sanctuaries and remains a dangerous foe.'' Extremists have been pushed out of their former stronghold in Anbar province west of Baghdad, and appear to be concentrated in the province of Diyala to the northeast of the capital and in Mosul to the north. U.S. and Iraqi forces will ``continue to pursue al-Qaida and other extremists wherever they attempt to take sanctuary,'' Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in a statement announcing the start of the joint operation. ``We are determined not to allow these brutal elements to have respite anywhere in Iraq.'' Few details were given, but the ``non-lethal'' part of the operation will focus on providing basic services and improving local governance and economic life for Iraqis, the statement said. Despite the general reduction of violence, attacks against civilians, members of the U.S.-backed armed groups known as Awakening Councils and Iraqi security forces continue to kill scores. U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said last week the recent attacks were the ``clearest indication'' that al-Qaida in Iraq - believed to consist mainly of Iraqis but to have foreign leadership - was worried about losing the support of its fellow Sunni Arabs. Monday's bombing occurred at the entrance of a Sunni Endowment office, a government agency that cares for Sunni mosques and shrines, and near an Awakening Council office in Azamiyah, which had been a stronghold of Sunni insurgents and a safe haven for al-Qaida in Iraq. On Tuesday, the local Awakening Council erected banners bearing words of condolence hung on walls and at intersections in Azamiyah. The switch of allegiance by insurgents in Azamiyah was one of the most significant in a series of similar moves across Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods. Azamiyah is home to Iraq's most revered Sunni shrine, the mosque of Imam Abu Hanifa, and many in the area served as officers in Saddam Hussein's army and security agencies, giving an edge to the insurgency there.

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