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Iraq Report: Major offensive underway in Babil

Iraqi and U.S. forces have launched a multi-brigade operation south of Baghdad as the pursuit of al Qaeda in Iraq continues in Diyala and the north. Al Qaeda in Iraq and allied insurgent groups conducted multiple mass casualty attacks in the northern city of Kirkuk, killing over 80 and wounding upwards of 200. Meanwhile, Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to hunt the deadly "Special Group" cells associated with Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army.

Babil

Coalition and Iraqi forces have launched a major offensive in the town of Jurf al-Sakhr and a region known as the Fish Farms near Iskandariyah in northern Babil province. Operation Marne Avalanche is a multi-brigade operation of about 5,000 U.S. and 3,500 Iraqi troops. "The area is one of the most politically and tactically complicated in Iraq," Stars & Stripes reported. "It straddles the Shiite-Sunni fault line south of Baghdad."

The purpose of Marne Avalanche is to clear the region of insurgents, prevent the flow of weapons into Baghdad, and restore the security forces in the region. Past attempts to secure this region failed as police stations were hit with suicide attacks.

"Marne Avalanche will build on the successes of Task Force Marne™s offensive operation, Marne Torch, which began June 1 and is ongoing," Multinational Forces Iraq stated in a press release. "To date, Operation Marne Torch resulted in 1,152 structures cleared, 83 insurgents killed, 278 insurgents detained, 51 caches found, 51 boats destroyed and 872 citizens entered in a biometric identification system."

In nearby Lutifiyah, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers captured 46 men "suspected of involvement with al Qaeda affiliated terror networks" during an air assault on July 12. "The combined air assault detained 29 men on the Iraqi army™s list of persons of interest, and 14 others who were identified by sources as terrorists." Also, in Qarghuli Village, an Iraqi resident led U.S. troops to two weapons caches. Three U.S. troops were captured near Qarghuli in May 2007, and two are still missing.

The North

As the operations in Baghdad and the Belts intensify, the suicide attacks in the north have increased. Today, a triple bombing in the flashpoint city of Kirkuk resulted in over 80 killed and 180 wounded. The majority of those killed and wounded were the result of a suicide attack with a truck packed with explosives. The suicide bomber targeted the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the party of President Jalal Talabani, AP reported.

Today's attacks in Kirkuk are the latest in a series of strikes against Shia and Kurdish villages and cities in Tanim, Salahadin, and Diyala provinces. Al Qaeda was thought to have established bases in the Hamrin mountains as early as April 2007, and reports that former al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi hid in these mountains surfaced as early as February 2006.

Diyala

In Diyala, the fight against al Qaeda and allied insurgent groups has moved outside the provincial capital of Baqubah. A joint U.S. and Iraqi army operation, dubbed Operation Ithaca, aimed at al Qaeda cells in the villages of Haimer, Abu Nasim, and Jamil. Twenty-nine al Qaeda were killed and 23 captured during Ithaca, while a safe house was destroyed and eight hostages were released.

South of Baqubah, U.S. forces killed six "armed terrorists" while targeting a "weapons dealer linked to the foreign terrorist network in Samarra."

Anbar

Updates from Anbar province have been sparse. Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit seized 50,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient of explosives, from two tractors at a checkpoint north of Karma. Last week, insurgents kidnapped and trapped 11 women and children in a home, and destroyed the home with explosives. Further west in Rawah and Hit near the Syrian border, Iraqi police captured four members of an extortion ring and two insurgents on July 9.

Al Qaeda's Network

The raids against al Qaeda's network nationwide continue as the operations in Baghdad and the Belts are underway. On July 14, Coalition forces captured 18 al Qaeda operatives in Mosul and the Baghdad suburbs. Coalition forces captured the security emir of Mosul. On July 15, Coalition forces captured 13 al Qaeda operatives during raids in Samarra and the Baghdad suburbs. On July 16, Coalition forces killed two al Qaeda operatives and captured 25 during raids in Mosul, Ramadi, Taji, and Baghdad and the suburbs. The Mosul raid resulted in the capture of "a senior member of an al-Qaeda in Iraq media cell" who "led Coalition Forces to the media cell headquarters."

Also, on July 13, U.S. Special Forces and Iraqi security forces captured a high-level Al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorist cell leader at Baghdad Airport. "The alleged cell leader has reportedly targeted Coalition Forces, distributed mortars, organized and ordered vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. "He is believed to operate out of the Karh district of Baghdad, along with Mahmudiyah and the Arab Jabour districts."

Iranian Cells

The raids against the Mahdi Army cells connected to Iran continue as Muqtada al Sadr has yet to surface since it was reported he fled again to Iran. On July 15, the Iraqi Army forces conducted several raids against the Iranian-backed "rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi" (Mahdi Army) cells in Baghdad and Najaf. The Baghdad raids resulted in the capture of a battalion commander and a cell leader. The battalion commander "is suspected of organizing kidnappings and leading death squad killings of Sunni Muslim Iraqi citizens. Intelligence suggests he has been involved in more than half of the detonated improvised explosive devices in two of the northern districts of Baghdad."

The Najaf raid netted a Mahdi Army facilitator who "provides rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi with improvised explosive devices and Iranian-made explosively-formed projectiles which have been used to attack Coalition Forces. Additionally, he is suspected of assisting rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi with cross-border training of their insurgent members and providing rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi with financial support, weapons, and equipment. The primary suspect is accused of exploiting charity organizations for insurgent recruiting purposes."

On July 14, Iraqi and Coalition forces in Kut killed two Mahdi Army fighters and wounded two others after the insurgents attempted to ambush the troops. The Mahdi fighters attacked the Iraqi and Coalition forces with an explosively formed penetrator and RPGs.

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