Mass Offensive Launched South of Baghdad
Some 5,000 U.S. Marines, British troops and Iraqi commandos launched raids and arrested suspected insurgents Tuesday in a new offensive aimed at clearing a swath of insurgent hotbeds south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
In other violence, masked gunmen assassinated a Sunni cleric north of Baghdad – the second such killing in as many days – and insurgents hit a U.S. convoy with a roadside bomb near the central Iraq city of Samarra, prompting the Americans to open fire, killing an Iraqi, hospital officials said.
The new offensive was the third large-scale military assault this month aimed at suppressing Iraq’s persistent insurgency ahead of crucial elections set for Jan. 30. The region of dusty, small towns south of the capital has become known as the “triangle of death” for the frequent attacks by car bombs, rockets, and small arms on U.S. and Iraqi forces there and for frequent ambushes on travellers. The military said violence has surged in the area in recent weeks in an apparent attempt to divert attention away from the U.S. assault on Fallujah.
The slain Sunni cleric, Sheik Ghalib Ali al-Zuhairi, was shot as he left a mosque in the town of Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of Baghdad, said police Col. Raisan Hussein. Al-Zuhairi was a member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, an influential group that has called for a boycott of nationwide elections. A day earlier, gunmen assassinated another prominent Sunni cleric in the northern city of Mosul – Sheik Faidh Mohamed Amin al-Faidhi, who was the brother of the group’s spokesman. It as unclear whether the two attacks were related.
One hopes this series of operations begins to destroy the insurgency. At some point, the people in these towns should come to realize that harboring these people is only bringing them misery. But rationality isn’t always assured, especially in the Middle East.
That said, the contrast in the two photos in the AP story above couldn’t be more striking.