July 29, 2008

Iraqi, U.S. Forces Start Operation in Restive Diyala Province

BAGHDAD _ Iraqi infantry, supported by artillery elements of the Iraqi air force and U.S. forces, began a major operation in Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, early Tuesday morning.

As many as 30,000 troops from the 4th and 8th divisions of the Iraqi army are already in place, Ali Ghaidan, the commander of Iraqi ground troops in that province, announced.

A spokesman for Ghaidan said the main aim of the offensive was to clear the province and its suburbs "of terrorists and outlaws," and that the secondary aim was to secure the border with Iran.

The agriculturally rich province was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting between U.S. troops and Sunni Muslim insurgent groups in 2005 and 2006.

Last year, however, many of those groups _ including the Army of Mujahedeen, Battalions of 1920 Revolution and Battalions of the Salahuddin _ united under the banner of the Awakening, U.S.-funded militias that have been instrumental in crippling the terrorist group al Qaida in Iraq in Diyala and the western province of Anbar.

While al Qaida in Iraq continues to attack Awakening fighters and police in Diyala, many of the Iraqi army commando operations in recent weeks have targeted the so-called "special groups," anti-government Shiite Muslim militias that are said to receive training and funding in Iran.

The Diyala offensive follows major operations in Baghdad's Sadr City district, Basra, Mosul and Amara. As was the case with some of those offensives, it's been public knowledge for weeks, giving any insurgents there ample time to escape.

"In Iraq nowadays we have no secrets," said Taha Diraa, a parliament member from Diyala. Nevertheless, he said, "I expect to have success and stability in this province."


(Spangler is a reporter for The Miami Herald.)


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