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Iraq Transition

U.S. military launches operation against al Qaeda in Iraq

Story Highlights

NEW: Operation launched against al Qaeda in Iraq militants in the Baquba area
NEW: At least 22 killed in "large-scale" operation
NEW: Operation Arrowhead Ripper will ultimately involve about 10,000 soldiers
• Four suspects arrested linked to last week's Samarra mosque bombing
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military early Tuesday launched a "large-scale" operation against al Qaeda in Iraq militants in the Baquba area, north of Baghdad, killing at least 22 enemy fighters, the Army said in a statement.

"The end state is to destroy the al Qaeda influences in this province and eliminate their threat against the people," said Brig. Gen. Mick Bednarek of the 25th Infantry Division. "That is the number one, bottom-line, up-front, in-your-face, task and purpose."

Operation Arrowhead Ripper will ultimately involve about 10,000 soldiers and "a full complement of attack helicopters, close air support, Strykers and Bradley Fighting Vehicles."

The operation is in its opening stages, according to the military.

Coalition raids target Iranian aid

Coalition raids aimed at disrupting the flow of weapons and fighters between Iraq and Iran resulted in the deaths of at least 20 militants early Monday in eastern Iraq, according to a statement from the U.S. military.

Coalition aircraft were called in to strafe fighters who attacked coalition troops in Amara and Majjar al-Kabir, two Shiite cities in the Maysan province bordering Iran, the military said.

"During the close air support, at least 20 terrorists were killed and six suspected terrorists were assessed to be wounded by the strafing," the military said. "A vehicle being used by the terrorists as a fighting position was also destroyed by the close air support."

Coalition forces captured militants who are "believed to be members of the secret cell terrorist network known for facilitating the transport of weapons and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training," the military said.

The military said it has intelligence reports indicating that Amara and Majjar al-Kabir are safe havens and smuggling routes for terrorists to import Iranian weapons into Iraq for the insurgency.

"Reports further indicate that Iranian surrogates, or Iraqis that are liaisons for Iranian intelligence operatives into Iraq, use both Amara and Majjar al-Kabir as safe haven locations," the military said.

The raids apparently involved Iraqi and British troops in a multinational force. British troops recently handed over security responsibility for the Maysan province to Iraqi security forces.

A British military spokesman said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally authorized the raids. (Watch cockpit videos supplied by the U.S. military of separate air attacks in Iskandariya, south of Baghdad Video)

Deadly clashes, car bombs

Two car bombs exploded close to each other Monday near a fuel station in southwest Baghdad, killing nine people and wounding 25 others, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

The explosions, which happened on a road between the Saydiya and Dora districts, also damaged several cars, the official said.

Also Monday, gunmen opened fire on garbage collectors in western Baghdad's Mansour district, killing one and wounding four others, a Baghdad police official said. Insurgents often target garbage collectors because they discover hidden roadside bombs, the official said.

In the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya, two people were killed -- including an Iraqi police officer -- and 52 people were wounded in clashes between Iraqi security forces and the Mehdi militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official. Nasiriya is a Shiite city about 230 miles (370 kilometers) south of Baghdad.

West of Baghdad, a car bomb detonated Monday near an outdoor market in the Sunni town of Falluja, killing three people and wounding 10 others, a police official said.

Suspects in mosque bombing arrested

Iraqi security forces arrested four suspects linked to last week's bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra, the U.S. military said Monday.

"Previous intelligence" led troops to a building where they detained the suspects without incident, the military said in a news release.

"Iraqi forces also seized several documents of propaganda, a CD showing attacks against coalition forces, several cell phones, 10 feet of detonation cord, 81 blasting caps, identification cards for [Al-Askariya Mosque] access and multiple photos depicting terrorist training," according to the news release.

Wednesday's bombing triggered fears that a wave of sectarian violence could begin anew. When the same mosque was bombed last year, it set off a wave of Sunni-Shiite clashes and reprisal killings.

Security was beefed up after last year's attack, but Wednesday's bombing indicated "some breaches" in protecting the mosque, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Sunday.

Shiite leaders appealed for calm after Wednesday's bombing, and Zebari said the Iraqi government's rapid response helped stem any potential violence.

"We didn't see the backlash and the killing we saw" after the February 2006 blast, he said. "This time, in fact, a curfew was imposed and the religious, political leaders were united to prevent the kind of sectarian killing we saw last time."

U.S. soldier killed

A U.S. soldier was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near a foot patrol in southern Baghdad, the military said Monday.

The Multi-National Division-Baghdad soldier's name was not immediately released because the soldier's family had not been notified.

"Elements of this unit have conducted numerous patrols and raids in Baghdad this past month," the U.S. military said in a news release. "These operations have netted 12 weapons caches and several arrests in an effort to provide a more secure environment for Iraqi citizens."

The U.S. military death toll in the Iraq war now stands at 3,520. Seven civilian contractors also have been killed.

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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