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Iraq Transition

Al Qaeda to residents: 'Leave or die'

Marines report threatening fliers in western Iraq

From Arwa Damon
CNN

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(CNN) -- U.S. Marines took down a sign warning Iraqi citizens not to cooperate with the Americans. The blue sign with yellow writing bears the signature of al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It stood along Iraq's desert highway leading into Qaim, near the Syrian border.

Such signs have been reported in other cities around the region, which includes Husayba, New Ubeydi, Karabila and Sa'dat, Col. Stephen Davis, whose forces operate in the western Al Anbar province, told CNN.

The Marines have also received reports of fliers telling residents of Sa'dat, west of Qaim, to leave the city or die, said Davis, the commander of the Marines Regimental Combat Team 2. And Marines have seen civilians leave, he added.

Some fliers urge citizens to join the holy fight and condemn Iraq's government and the offensive in Falluja last year. They promote the organization's alleged attacks in the region and claim insurgents have killed tens of thousands of U.S. troops.

Zarqawi, who has a $25 million reward on his head, has claimed that al Qaeda in Iraq has taken over the Qaim area, hailing it "The Islamic Republic of Qaim."

Meanwhile, a man believed to be al Qaeda in Iraq's number two operative was killed during a weekend raid in southeastern Baghdad, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Tuesday. (Full story)

Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, called the killing the most important "get" since the seizure of Saddam Hussein in December 2003.

Last week, an alleged driver for two al Qaeda in Iraq leaders was captured, the U.S. military said. (Full story)

For months, Davis said, Marine forces have played a game of cat and mouse with the insurgency up and down the Euphrates River valley. Given the size of the region, which is 30,000 square miles, Marine forces have been stretched thin. And cities seized from insurgents by coalition forces are reoccupied by the insurgents, once coalition forces have withdrawn.

The except is the city of Hit, because it has a permanent U.S. and Iraqi presence after coalition forces took control two months ago.

Davis said that numerous airstrikes and intelligence-driven raids have eliminated many insurgent leaders in the area and caused significant damage to their networks and infrastructure. He emphasized that new network leaders are inferior to their predecessors.

A coalition strike against an al Qaeda-linked safe house killed one such leader about three weeks ago, Multi-National Forces said. (Full story)

Operation Green Light, conducted in the Baghdad area, about 15 miles north of Hit, destroyed an insurgent cell believed to operate along the Hit-Haditha corridor. The three-day operation ended on Tuesday with the detention of a dozen people.

The cell was believed to be a strong arm of the intimidation campaign, conducting small arms fire attacks against the Al Asad air base and planting roadside bombs.

Cell members were also believed to be facilitators -- bringing in foreign fighters from Syria, providing safe houses and supplying weapons, Davis said.

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