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Iraq Transition

'River Blitz' launched around Ramadi

Crackdown follows more than 50 deaths during Shiite holiday

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. and Iraqi forces launched an anti-insurgency operation Sunday in Ramadi and other cities along the Euphrates River, adding an 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew and other security measures, the U.S. military said.

Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, said the Iraqi government had asked U.S. forces to "increase our security operations ... to locate, isolate and defeat" insurgents operating from the area.

The push, dubbed "Operation River Blitz," is a "purely routine" activity aimed at bringing order and stability, an Iraqi interior ministry official told CNN.

Ramadi, provincial capital of Anbar province and considered a stronghold of Sunni Muslims who once backed Saddam Hussein, is 60 miles west of Baghdad and 30 miles west of Falluja. U.S. forces took Falluja back from insurgents in a devastating show of force late last year.

"Ramadi has been an ongoing problem for some time for the Iraqi government, but there is nothing new or extraordinary about the military operations in the area," the Iraqi interior ministry official said.

The official said that no area of Ramadi has been sealed off. He said security in the area was tough because of difficulties recruiting police officers.

Forces involved in the operation will set up checkpoints and screen vehicles, a statement from the U.S. military said.

The Iraqi official also said security around the Ashura holiday Friday and Saturday was a "complete success." Attacks on those days killed at least 54 people, but he said the security forces had been prepared for worse, and the incidents that did occur were not considered categorically significant. (Full story)

Security was concentrated on Karbala, and the official noted that during the past 10 days, with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims there, no attacks took place inside the holy city.

Most of the attacks over the holiday period took place in Baghdad and Baquba.

The Shiite holiday marks the martyrdom of Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad. His 680 defeat by the caliphate in Karbala was one of the events that created the schism between Sunnis and Shiites, the two main Islamic religious movements, which have maintained tense relations over the centuries.

The attacks during Ashura were the latest examples of sectarian violence aimed at Shiites, who make up the majority of the population in Iraq. The Shiite-backed United Iraqi Alliance won a plurality of votes in the National Assembly elections held January 30.

Other developments

  • A top Iraqi noncommissioned officer was killed Sunday afternoon in a drive-by shooting in the city of Wajihiya, about 70 miles northeast of Baghdad, U.S. military officials said. Command Sgt. Maj. Abbas Abid of the 205th Iraqi Army Battalion was killed by gunmen in a burgundy automobile with tinted windows. Wajihiya is about 9 miles southwest of Muqtadiya, where the 205th -- frequently held up by U.S. officials as a model other Iraqi battalions should emulate -- is based.
  • Former Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi said Sunday that he believes he is on track to become Iraq's next prime minister. But he hedged the prediction by saying on ABC's "This Week" that he wouldn't "second guess" the parliamentary coalition to which he belongs -- the United Iraqi Alliance, backed by Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Alliance officials have said the real front-runner is Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Dawa Party.
  • A top Kurdish cleric and his wife were shot to death as they left their home near Kirkuk on Saturday morning, Kirkuk Police Chief Gen. Torhan Yousif said. Sheikh Mohammed Rustum Abdul Rahman was the head of the Kurdish Muslim Clerics.
  • A U.S. Marine was killed in action Saturday during an operation in Anbar province, the U.S. military said. This death brings the number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war to 1,474.
  • The Iraqi government said Sunday that accused terrorist Sami Ali Faithi was detained during a raid near Mosul on February 1. The government described Faithi as "leader of [a] terrorist cell that included 80 terrorists in Mosul" and said he had links to Mohammed Khalef Shakara, an insurgent with a $50,000 reward on his head.
  • The Iraqi army captured Jaffar Sadaq Fette on February 3, according to Thair al-Nakib, spokesman for Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Al-Nakib said Fette led a 100-member group responsible for smuggling Iraqis out of the country for training and then back in again. Al-Nakib also said Iraq security forces killed two men, Adel Mujtaba and Abu al-Izz, associated with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born insurgent blamed for many insurgent attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces.
  • Faez al-Ashbal, a political adviser in the Iraqi Hezbollah movement who was close to al-Sistani, was killed late last week in a drive-by shooting at his home in west Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood, police said.
  • CNN's Ayman Mohyeldin contributed to this report.

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