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Shiite militants targeted as troops push crackdown in Iraq

(AFP) US and Iraqi troops launched massive raids across Iraq on Tuesday as part of a sweeping operation to rein in militants ahead of the start of the holy month of Ramadan, the US military said.

Four suspected Shiite militants were killed in a raid on Baghdad’s volatile slum of Sadr City while dozens of others were arrested during crackdowns in other parts of the country, it said.

Insurgent attacks continued, however, with at least 15 people, including the pregnant wife of a police chief being killed Tuesday in a string of bombings and shootings across the country, while another four American soldiers were reported killed.

US military leaders have said the aim of Operation Phantom Strike, launched on Monday and backed by tens of thousands of soldiers, is to disrupt Shiite extremist networks and insurgents affiliated to Al-Qaeda, which the Americans blame for most of the violence besieging the country.

Tuesday’s raid in Sadr City, whose residents owe allegiance to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, targetted a “rogue Jaish al-Mahdi leader and his operatives” suspected of attacks against US forces in Baghdad, the military said.

“These militants are also known to have ties to illicit materials smuggled from Iran that have been used in extra-judicial killings,” it said, adding that they had broken away from the main Mahdi Army militia of Sadr.

The US military accuses Shiite militants and Sadr’s Mahdi Army itself of being behind the deaths of thousands of Sunni Arabs since Iraq’s relentless sectarian conflict broke out last year.

It claims some of the militants are members of special cells trained, armed and funded by Iranian-linked groups to launch attacks on US-led forces. Tehran denies it sponsors the militants.

Some 16,000 troops, meanwhile, have surged into restive Diyala province in an attempt to reign in Sunni insurgents and “capture or kill Al-Qaeda responsible for the violence against Iraqi civilians,” the military said.

Operation Lightning Hammer was launched late Monday in the province, the second most dangerous after Baghdad, with an “air assault into targeted locations,” it added.

The nationwide crackdown is an attempt to curb violence ahead of Ramadan — the Muslim month of fasting – which begins in the second week of September, a military spokesman said Monday.

The US military in another statement said more than a dozen Shiite militants, mostly “rogue” elements of the Mahdi Army responsible for bombings and murders, have been arrested in other parts of the country since Phantom Strike began.

Twelve were held Monday during operations in Baghdad while a top aide of the cleric himself was arrested the previous day in the central holy city of Najaf.

Of the 12 picked up in Baghdad, eight are “high-level leaders linked to JAM (Jaish al-Mahdi) special groups that carry out attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces,” the military said.

Sadr, who enjoys popular grassroot support among Iraqi Shiites, is a powerful political player in Iraq’s embattled government led by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who has called for a summit this week of senior leaders from Iraq’s bitterly divided communities to try to salvage his crumbling coalition.

Despite the crackdown, violence surged Tuesday, with police reporting that gunmen slaughtered the pregnant wife of a police officer, his brother and 12-year-old son in the town of Suweira, 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Baghdad.

In a separate pre-dawn attack, gunmen killed three women and a man in the mainly Shiite village of Ghraiya northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, a local medic said.

A suicide bomber also blew up a highway bridge north of Baghdad and killed eight people on Tuesday, security officials said, adding the bridge collapsed partly.

Four more American soldiers were also reported killed in Iraq, three of them in one explosion in the northern Nineveh province on Monday, the US military said Tuesday.

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August 14, 2007 - Posted by | Blogroll, Homeland security, news, personal, politics, random, religion, Terrorism, Terrorism In The U.S., Terrorism News, Uncategorized, War-On-Terror

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