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Iraq Transition

U.S. unleashes 'surprise' offensive in western Iraq

American, Iraqi forces target insurgents in Haditha


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. forces launched a wide-ranging offensive Wednesday against insurgents in western Iraq, involving about 1,000 American and Iraqi troops in Sunni-dominated Anbar province, the Marines said.

"The operation is successful to this point," said Marine Col. Stephen Davis. "We were able to achieve what we believe is total surprise, and we continue to do our series of coordinated searches for insurgents and for caches of munitions and weapons."

A Marine statement issued earlier described the offensive -- Operation New Market -- as "focused on disrupting insurgent activity in the vicinity of Haditha and maintaining the pressure on insurgents begun with Operation Matador" earlier this month.

That offensive -- conducted between May 7 and 14 -- was launched farther west near Syria, around Qaim. It was designed to disrupt cross-border infiltration by insurgents organizing for attacks in Ramadi, Falluja, Baghdad and Mosul.

Wednesday's resistance by insurgents is "less severe" than what forces found during Matador, Davis said at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq. "A number of different types of groups ... make up the insurgency here." But unlike Matador, Davis said, "we believe most of these are probably Iraqi insurgents."

North of Haditha, a weapons cache "buried in a palm grove" included rocket-propelled grenade launchers, a machine gun and ammunition, a Marine statement said.

Ten insurgents have been killed in the fighting and two Marines were reported wounded, the statement said.

One insurgent attacker was identified by citizens as an imam, the Marines said. "The imam was firing on Marines and [Iraqi security forces] with an AK-47 assault rifle."

Another U.S.-led military operation called Operation Squeeze Play -- launched this week in the area around Baghdad's Abu Ghraib district has led to hundreds of arrests, the U.S. military said.

Other developments

  • The Defense Ministry on Wednesday announced the arrest of Ali Agha Omar, described as a secretary of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The ministry said Iraqi soldiers and multinational forces detained the man Tuesday in Baquba. Islamist militant Web site reports on Tuesday said al-Zarqawi, who is suspected of masterminding terror bombings and kidnappings, has been wounded. (Full story)
  • An Iraqi civilian was killed and seven others were wounded Wednesday in a suicide car bombing in the al-Saydia neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad, police sources said. The attack was thought to have targeted a U.S. military convoy in the area.
  • A civilian died and eight police commandos were wounded in a car bombing Wednesday in the southern neighborhood of al-Dora, police in the capital said. The parked car laden with explosives targeted a police commando patrol and appeared to be remotely detonated, police said.
  • Insurgent attacks during a 24-hour period killed nine U.S. troops in Iraq, the military said Tuesday. The number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war is 1,645, according to U.S. military reports.
  • CNN's Kianne Sadeq, Octavia Nasr, Arwa Damon, Enes Dulami, Kevin Flower and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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