Tue, Feb 22, 2005 - Page 1 News List

US Marines begin new offensive in Iraq

TROUBLED CITIES As Sunni attacks on Shiites picked up pace, the US military began a series of assaults on what it said were insurgent positions west of Baghdad

AP , BAGHDAD, IRAQ

US Marines broke down doors and raided houses yesterday on the second day of an offensive aimed at cracking down on insurgent activity in several troubled cities west of Baghdad.

Meanwhile, militants announced they were releasing a pair of kidnapped Indonesian journalists missing since last week in a new video delivered anonymously to Associated Press Television News. It was not possible to verify the video's authenticity or determine when it was made. The hostages whereabouts were not known.

Shiites and their clergy-backed United Iraqi Alliance met yesterday in Baghdad to renew discussions over who their prime ministerial candidate would be. But instead of narrowing the choices down, the field for potential candidates has grown to four, maybe even five, insiders said.

The two main candidates so far had been the former Pentagon favorite Ahmad Chalabi, a secular Shiite, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim vice president.

Six explosions boomed through the capital before midday. The cause of the blasts was not immediately known. Footage showed US troops treating a US soldier apparently injured in one of the blasts, which overturned a Humvee in the southern Doura neighborhood.

In Ramadi, US Marines fanned out across the city, setting up checkpoints, searching cars and sealing off sections of the city to prevent people from entering or leaving as they carried out raids.

Iraqi Major Abdul Karim al-Faraji said troops detained a prominent Sunni Muslim sheik, Mohammed Nasir Ali al-Ijbie, who heads the al-Bufaraj tribe, along with 12 of his relatives.

As the Shiite majority prepared to take control of the country's first freely elected government, tribal chiefs representing Sunni Arabs in six provinces issued a list of demands -- including participation in the government and drafting a new constitution -- after previously refusing to acknowledge the vote's legitimacy.

"We made a big mistake when we didn't vote," said Sheik Hathal Younis Yahiya, 49, a representative from northern Nineveh. "Our votes were very important."

He said threats from insurgents -- not sectarian differences -- kept most Sunnis from voting.

Sunnis make up 20 percent of Iraq's population of 26 million; Shiites make up 60 percent.

Just west of the capital, US Marines and Iraqi security forces launched a joint operation Sunday to crack down on insurgents and terrorists in several troubled cities, the military said, three months after a weeklong battle to drive out insurgents who controlled the volatile city of Fallujah.

The Marines succeeded in gaining control of the city in Anbar province, but the insurgency has continued.

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