Iraq War news

Thursday, March 16, 2006

U.S., Iraqi forces launch large-scale offensive near Samarra

KR Washington Bureau | 03/16/2006 | U.S., Iraqi forces launch large-scale offensive near Samarra: "BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi and U.S. forces launched near Samarra on Thursday what they called the largest air assault since the invasion three years ago, while Iraq's permanent National Assembly had a historic but uneventful first meeting in the capital."

At least 1,500 Iraqi and U.S. troops, supported by 50 U.S. attack helicopters, went door to door in the village of Al Jilam, north of Baghdad, searching for insurgents and their weapons.

The assault is the latest in a series of large-scale offensive operations over the past year and is distinguished by the use of assault helicopters, a specialty of the 101st Airborne Division, which mounted the attack. Knight Ridder reported last month from the city of Samarra that U.S. troops were gradually withdrawing from the area even as insurgent attacks continued.

Staff Sgt. Stan Lavery, a U.S. Army spokesman in Baghdad, said Thursday's assault was intended to clear the area of insurgent activity. He said troops had recovered numerous weapons caches, including bomb-making materials and Iraqi military uniforms.

There were no immediate reports of civilian casualties. Residents in the region said that the area under attack had become so full of insurgents that it was a virtual no-go zone for many of them.

Lavery said there was no breakdown available on the percentage of U.S. troops and Iraqi troops in the offensive, but he said the troops involved in what's called Operation Swarmer are from the Iraqi army's 1st Brigade, 4th Division and the U.S. 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade.

A military press release on the operation said that "Operation Swarmer follows closely the completion of a combined Iraqi-Coalition operation west of Samarra in early March that yielded substantial enemy weapons and equipment caches."

Soldiers and aircraft are positioned on the airstrip in advance of Operation Swarmer, a combined Iraqi and Coalition operation to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra.
Sgt. First Class Antony Joseph/US Army/KRT
Soldiers and aircraft are positioned on the airstrip in advance of Operation Swarmer, a combined Iraqi and Coalition operation to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra.

The site of the assault is just northeast of Samarra, where an Islamic shrine was bombed in February. That bombing set off waves of sectarian violence in Iraq, including 86 killings in a 24-hour period earlier this week.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi National Assembly met in Baghdad for the first time since the December elections, though nothing was accomplished beyond formalities. Lawmakers read the Quran, recited poetry about Iraq's unity and adjourned.

The atmosphere appeared tense, with little interaction between Sunni and Shiite assembly members. Hachim al-Hasani, former head of the assembly, praised Iraqi unity in poem: "If Baghdad cries out in misery, meadows of Basrah would weep ..."

But Braham Salih, a Kurdish representative, said a lot of work is still needed.

"We are facing big challenges, and our people are bleeding," he said.

Hassan al-Bazzaz, a professor of international relations and head of the Bazzaz Center of Culture and Opinion, said Iraqis didn't expect miracles in this first session. The meeting satisfied the legal requirement that the assembly members meet. After that, they could choose to postpone future sessions, which they did.

"But what we did see is that the differences between the members are much deeper than expected," he said. "There were no signs of trust."

Members noted continued disagreement over who'll serve as prime minister, president and ministry heads, as well as the scope, purpose and powers of a new national security commission.

Ordinary Iraqis, who in Baghdad were under a daytime curfew, were unimpressed.

Hassan Sadiq, 45, watched the assembly gather with hope. The Shiite government worker said he had been optimistic that the assembly would announce a coalition and a president. Instead, "someone objected to the oath of office," he said. "It would be funny, but they can't even agree on that."

Mukhtar is a Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondent. Special correspondents Mohammed Alawsy and Zaineb Obeid contributed to this report.

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