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U.S. bombs 'safe haven' for al Qaeda in Iraq

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  • NEW: U.S. military says one militant killed by troops in raid, 18 detained
  • U.S. bombardment aims to "neutralize" area before ground troops go in, military says
  • Some 40,000 pounds of bombs dropped on Arab Jabour area south of Baghdad
  • Baghdad car bomb kills three members of Iraqi security forces, injures 11 others
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- American warplanes Thursday pounded a region of Iraq considered a "safe haven" for al Qaeda in Iraq, dropping 38 bombs in the first 10 minutes of the attack, the U.S. military said.

A U.S. soldier mans a gun on a tank in Baghdad as Operation Phantom Phoenix gets under way this week.

The bombardment near the Arab Jabour area on the southern outskirts of Baghdad is part of a new countrywide push against insurgents called Operation Phantom Phoenix, the military said.

Forty targets were hit simultaneously, with a total of 40,000 pounds of bombs dropped, according to a military news release. The attacks follow a series of "kinetic strikes" there since December 31, a military official said.

The official said the area is one of the last insurgent "safe havens" in the agricultural region that includes sprawling fields and farmlands. Video Watch U.S. bombs take out buildings and vehicles »

Targets included suspected cache sites for explosives and roadside bombs, and the aim was to "neutralize" the threat before the troops go in, the official said. Some of the targets were along the Tigris River.

Soldiers on the ground, from the Second Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, and U.S. Air Force personnel coordinated their efforts in the airstrikes, and the operation is continuing, the military release said.

The operation "required extensive planning to prevent collateral damage and to prevent the use of any area for attacks into Baghdad and against coalition forces," according to the news release.

"The Air Force provided two B-1 bombers and four F-16 fighter jets, aiming at three large target areas. Each bomber passed over twice and the F-16s followed to complete the set," the release said.

U.S. soldiers will work with the Iraqi security forces and anti-insurgents called Concerned Local Citizens "to continue these offensive operations to keep pressure on the enemy," the military release said.

Phantom Phoenix is a joint Iraqi and U.S. operation to "pursue and neutralize remaining al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist elements," said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, the formal name for the U.S.-led forces.

A U.S. military spokesman said the operation would be countrywide, "though it is clear al Qaeda in Iraq is attempting to regain strength and establish new support areas in northern Iraq."

U.S.-led coalition troops Thursday killed one suspected militant and detained 18 others in raids targeting al Qaeda in Iraq, the U.S. military said.

The raids were southwest of Mahmoudiya and in Baghdad, Mosul and Samarra.

"We remain vigilant and determined to eliminate the extremist enemies of Iraq," said Maj. Winfield Danielson, a spokesman for Multi-National Forces-Iraq.

On Wednesday, six U.S. soldiers were killed when a homemade bomb exploded in a house while they were on patrol in Diyala, north of Baghdad, the military said. Video Watch what is driving up U.S. casualties in Iraq »

Four other soldiers were wounded. There have been 17 U.S. deaths in Iraq in the first nine days of January, and the death toll since the war began stands at 3,921, including seven civilian employees of the Defense Department.

Meanwhile Thursday in Baghdad, a roadside bomb killed three members of Iraqi security forces and wounded 11 others, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

Soldiers and police were responding to a car bomb explosion in central Baghdad's Nasr Square, on the east side of the Tigris River, when the second bomb exploded, according to the official. There were no injuries in the first attack.

The U.N. refugee agency said Thursday that the Arab League is starting a fundraising and public awareness campaign to help Iraqi refugees who have fled their war-torn nation.


The campaign, called "Arabs Hand-in-Hand," will begin Friday on Arabic-language TV via "advertising, feature stories, documentaries, refugee testimonials and call for donations," the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said in a news release.

The refugee agency estimates that more than 2 million Iraqis are refugees, most of them in Syria and Jordan, and more than 2.2 million people have been displaced within Iraq. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Arwa Damon, Cal Perry and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

All About IraqAl Qaeda in IraqMulti-National Force Iraq

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