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Troops launch sweep in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Seven Iraqi battalions backed by U.S. forces launched an offensive in the capital on Sunday in an effort to staunch the violence that has killed more than 550 people in less than a month, targeting insurgents who have attacked Abu Ghraib prison and the dangerous road to Baghdad’s airport.

A suicide car bomber also blew himself up near a U.S. convoy and police station in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad, killing one American soldier and wounding two others along with two Iraqi policemen, the military said.

Also Sunday, a U.S. soldier was killed in a vehicle accident near Kirkuk, the military said.Aides to a radical anti-American Shiite cleric, meanwhile, sought to defuse tension between Sunni Muslims and the majority Shiites after a recent series of sectarian killings.

Iraq’s government took the diplomatic offensive, joining the United States in its oft-repeated demands that Syria close its porous border to foreign fighters.

A senior Iraqi Trade Ministry official was killed Sunday in an ongoing terror campaign that has killed more than 550 people in less than one month. On Monday, a top aide to Iraq’s Cabinet was assassinated.

Iraqi authorities also announced that Ghazi Hammud al-Obeidi, 65, one of the most-wanted officials of Saddam Hussein’s former regime, was released last month because he apparently was terminally ill with stomach cancer.

Al-Obeidi had been regional chairman of the ruling Baath Party in the southeastern city of Kut. He was detained May 7, 2003, and released April 28, making him the first of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis to be freed. He was No. 51 on the most-wanted list.

The U.S. military said the offensive in the west part of the capital had been set in motion to root out insurgents, especially those who have staged bloody assaults on the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison and the notoriously dangerous road from downtown to the airport.

Without providing numbers of troops, U.S. officials said four battalions of Iraqi soldiers and three battalions of police launched the offensive with the support of an unspecified number of American military personnel. A total of about 2,500 personnel were believed involved.

Suspects were detained, but the military gave no numbers.

“Iraqi army and Ministry of Interior forces worked very well together and demonstrated good, solid fundamental skills today,” said Col. Mark A. Milley, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

Today, three suicide bombers tried to attack the American military in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad; three U.S. soldiers were injured, the military said.

Two suicide bombers detonated their car bombs, Maj. Richard Goldenberg said. A third militant approached the scene wearing an explosives-packed vest, was shot by soldiers but still managed to set off his bomb, killing himself but causing no other injuries or damage, Goldenberg said.

The Polish military said Sunday that Polish and Iraqi forces have arrested 187 people suspected of carrying out, planning or supporting insurgent attacks in central Iraq, seizing explosives and ammunition. The arrests were made Thursday and Friday in Wasit province, which borders Iran.

In charging Syria with failing to stop the influx of foreign fighters, Baghdad was restating a routine U.S. complaint.

“Syria can do more,” government spokesman Laith Kuba said at a news conference. “It has a regime based on security, intelligence and police,” he said, arguing that Damascus must know of the presence of foreign fighters.

“It is impossible for about 2,000 people coming from the gulf to pass through Syria and cross from Qaim or other border points without being discovered, despite our repeated calls,” he said.


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