Sunday, May 29, 2005

Iraqi forces launch biggest mission since Saddam

Iraqi forces launch biggest mission since Saddam: "Iraqi forces launch biggest mission since Saddam

By Andrew Marshall

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi forces launched their biggest security crackdown since the fall of Saddam Hussein with the start of Operation Lightning on Sunday, a sweep by 40,000 Iraqi troops who will seal off Baghdad and hunt for insurgents.

Backed by the 10,000 U.S. troops in the capital, Iraqi soldiers will block major routes into Baghdad and search the city district by district, looking for foreign Arab fighters and Iraqi guerrillas, Iraqi officials say.

But by Sunday evening, there were few signs of a heightened security presence in Baghdad, although checkpoints were set up in the north and south of the city and cars were searched. Officials said the operation would gather steam in coming days.

The launch of the crackdown comes after a sharp increase in suicide bombings and ambushes by insurgents who have killed around 700 people in the past month since a new Shi'ite Islamist-led government was announced.

At least 70 U.S. troops have been killed in the same period, the highest monthly American death toll since January when insurgents were trying to derail the Jan. 30 elections.

'The operation began today. The troops will block all entrances of Baghdad to prevent terrorists from conducting activities in the capital. It's a crackdown on the terrorism infrastructure,' a Defense Ministry official told Reuters.

The operation was announced on Thursday -- potentially giving insurgents the chance to flee Baghdad before it began."

Iraqi soldiers are beginning to take charge of their own security. The circle is almost complete.

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