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US Attacks Ninevah

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    Massive US Air Attack South of Baghdad By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer January 10, 2008
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 10, 2008
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      Massive US Air Attack South of Baghdad
      By HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press Writer
      January 10, 2008
      www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/sns-ap-iraq,0,219744.story?coll=chi_tab01_layout



      ZAMBARANIYAH, Iraq

      U.S. warplanes unleashed one of the most intense airstrikes of the
      Iraq war Thursday, dropping 40,000 pounds of explosives in a
      thunderous 10-minute onslaught on suspected al-Qaida in Iraq safe
      havens in Sunni farmlands south of Baghdad.

      The mighty barrage -- recalling the Pentagon's "shock and awe" raids
      during the 2003 invasion -- appeared to mark a significant escalation
      in a countrywide offensive launched this week to try to cripple
      remaining insurgent strongholds.

      But it also fits into the endgame strategy of last year's U.S. troop
      buildup, which seeks to regain control of Baghdad and surrounding
      areas as a buffer zone for the capital. U.S. commanders are now
      attempting to subdue the last insurgent footholds around Baghdad
      before the Pentagon faces a possible reduction in troop strength.

      Some of the additional 30,000 troops have been pulled out and the
      remainder are expected to depart by June, military officials have told
      The Associated Press. With insurgents still holding pockets south of
      the capital in the north -- including areas around the key northern
      city of Mosul -- the military apparently wants to take the remaining
      four months or so to use the expanded military muscle against al-Qaida.

      After Thursday's fierce airstrikes, U.S. and Iraqi soldiers advanced
      through smoldering citrus groves into areas that were considered
      important al-Qaida enclaves around Arab Jabour, southeast of Baghdad.
      An Iraq officer said the soldiers discovered two houses used to
      torture kidnap victims and arrested at least 12 suspected insurgents.

      Little initial resistance was reported. At least nine U.S. soldiers
      have been killed since the offensive began Tuesday -- the deadliest
      days for American forces since last fall.

      In the farming village of Zambaraniyah, on the outskirts of Arab
      Jabour about nine miles southeast of the capital, scenes of neglect
      and devastation were testimony to years of fighting between militants
      and U.S. and Iraqi troops. Most of the land is torched or left fallow
      along small roads that were once laced with booby traps and bombs.
      Fields are strewn with trash and the blackened hulks of cars. Many
      buildings are pockmarked by gunfire, and most homes are abandoned.

      Maj. Alayne Conway, a spokeswoman for troops in central Iraq, said the
      amount of ordnance dropped in 10 minutes nearly exceeded what had been
      used in that region in any month since last June.

      Conway said the air attack "was one of the largest airstrikes since
      the onset of the war" in March 2003.

      A military statement said two B-1 bombers and four F-16 fighters hit
      40 targets in Arab Jabour in 10 strikes. Al-Qaida fighters are
      believed to control Arab Jabour, a Sunni district lined with citrus
      groves.

      "Thirty-eight bombs were dropped within the first 10 minutes, with a
      total tonnage of 40,000 pounds," the statement said.

      The Iraqi army officer, whose unit is in the Arab Jabour area, said
      the airstrikes began at 8 a.m. and set several groves ablaze and
      destroyed two houses used by gunmen. He said soldiers confiscated
      documents and weapons including AK-47s.

      The army officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not
      authorized to speak to the media. But Sheik Mahmoud Kamil Shebib, a
      local Sunni leader who has turned against al-Qaida in Iraq,
      independently gave a similar account.

      Moahmoud Chiad, who lives on the edge of Arab Jabour, said he was
      surprised to see many U.S.-Iraqi checkpoints with Iraqi security
      forces. The Iraqis used loudspeakers to order residents to stay home.

      "After this, we saw U.S. helicopters hovering over the area while the
      sounds of jet fighters were also heard," he said. "Minutes later,
      there was the sounds of big explosions. We saw fire and smoke coming
      out from some groves. Then, the gunfire crackled in the groves, but it
      ended by noon."

      An AP reporter in Zambaraniyah observed bombing continue until
      Thursday evening.

      "This is about as far as our offensive has come to at this point,"
      U.S. Army Lt. Col. Mark Solomon told a small group of reporters on a
      six-hour tour.

      "The enemy is a 100 yards from where we stand and snipers have taken
      position in the houses you see some 200 or 300 yards away," the
      40-year-old Massachusetts native said as he stood on a dirt road in
      Zambaraniyah, a rural area where farmland is dotted with date palms
      and small houses. "I believe they are looking at us now."

      Solomon, with the 3rd Infantry Division, said two or three dozen
      militants were holding out in the area and that about 30 of them were
      killed in recent fighting. He said a force of about 50 men who live in
      the area are actively supporting the U.S. and Iraqi forces in policing
      the area -- part of the "Awakening Council" movement that has brought
      Sunnis in alliance with Washington to battle al-Qaida and other groups.

      Even before Thursday's massive attack, Solomon said residents were
      returning to their homes and that stores and schools were reopening.
      "This is a very encouraging," he said, pointing to a family of four
      carrying bags brimming with clothes and food supplies.

      Despite the apparent success to move quickly into suspected al-Qaida
      zones, the overall impact of the current campaign remains unclear.

      Before the beginning of the offensive, many militants apparently fled
      U.S. and Iraqi forces massing north of Baghdad in Diyala province --
      another area around the capital where insurgents continue to hold
      sway. The retreat left open the possibility that al-Qaida and its
      backers will seek new staging grounds in northern Iraq, where U.S.
      troop levels are lower.

      Brig. Gen. James Boozer, speaking on CNN, said al-Qaida fighters
      relied on Diyala "as a sanctuary, a safe haven where they go refit,
      rearm and plan some of their spectacular attacks."

      Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, lauded the help of the
      Sunnis in the awakening council movement in Diyala and Anbar. But he
      said the decisive battles against extremists are still to come.

      He predicted the crucial showdown could take place in Nineveh, a
      diverse area of desert, farmland and mountains bordering Turkey in
      Iraq's northwest. It includes Iraq's third-largest city, Mosul.

      "We hope the decisive battle would be in Nineveh province, where
      terrorism had fled from Baghdad," he said in Baghdad.

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