Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

US forces tighten grip on Iraq city

United States soldiers tightened their cordon around al-Qaeda fighters holed up in the Iraqi city of Baquba on Saturday, advancing carefully through streets lined with roadside bombs and booby-trapped houses.

”We are enveloping the enemy into a kill sack,” said Command Sergeant Major Jeff Huggins from the Fifth Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, Third Stryker Brigade.

Around 10 000 American and Iraqi soldiers are into the fifth day of a major push against al-Qaeda militants in Diyala province just north of Baghdad.

US troops have killed dozens of suspected al-Qaeda fighters. One US soldier has been killed.

Much of the focus is on Baquba, an al-Qaeda stronghold that has become a sanctuary for militants escaping a four-month-old security crackdown in the capital.

Major Doug Baker, also from the Fifth Battalion, said he had cleared three-quarters of the neighbourhood he was assigned to. But around 100 al-Qaeda fighters were hunkered down in the north-west corner of the Khatoon district in west Baquba.

”That is where we are expecting the stiffest resistance,” said Baker, speaking late on Friday at a military base.

Arrowhead Ripper

The Diyala campaign, dubbed Operation Arrowhead Ripper, is part of a broader offensive involving tens of thousands of US and Iraqi soldiers pushing on with simultaneous operations in Baghdad and to the south and west of the capital.

A major focus of the operations is al-Qaeda’s car bomb networks. US officials accuse the Sunni Islamist group of using car bombs and assassinations against Shi’ite targets in an attempt to spark full-scale sectarian civil war.

Some residents in Baquba have complained there has been no water or electricity since Operation Arrowhead Ripper began.

Baker said the incursion had lifted a strict regime where smoking was banned and fruit was not allowed to be placed next to vegetables in the market.

Soldiers had also found a house that appeared to have been set up as an al-Qaeda court, with a room divided by a curtain. Behind this was a large chair from which judgement was apparently delivered.

Hardline insurgents have been trying to establish a Taliban-style rule in Diyala for months, forcing schoolgirls to wear veils and attacking restaurants and Internet cafes deemed ”un-Islamic”.

No carpet bombing

US soldiers said homes taken over by al-Qaeda militants had been fortified, with windows sandbagged and firing platforms built inside to make them easier to defend.

The military was using air strikes and precision-guided bombs and missiles to destroy such targets.

”We’re not carpet-bombing these things. People know if we get resistance from a house, we’ll take that house out and the people in it, but not take out the entire street,” said Baker.

Soldiers on foot are also having to negotiate booby-trapped houses and so-called deep-buried, improvised explosive devices — large bombs up to three metres under the ground.

US military commanders have said the combined operations were taking advantage of the completion of a build-up of US forces in Iraq to 156 000 soldiers.

US President George Bush has sent 28 000 more troops to Iraq to buy time for Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to reach a political compromise with disaffected minority Sunni Arabs, who are locked in a cycle of violence with majority Shi’ites. – Reuters

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

DA’s egregious sexual harassment case finally begins

The party is accused of protecting a councillor, who’s also implicated in R1.2m graft

The ANC, DA and EFF ‘oblivious’ to climate crisis —...

The Climate Justice Charter Movement has critiqued the manifestos of the main parties contesting the local government elections and found them ‘shallow’

More top stories

Defend journalists and media freedom in Eswatini

Journalists are censored through cruel and illegitimate detention, torture and the removal of means to disseminate information to citizens crying – and dying – for it

It’s safe to open the beaches, says UPL after chemical...

Agrochemical producer UPL said it has paid R250-million in chemical spill clean-up

Former spy boss Fraser objects to Zondo’s nomination as chief...

The former director general of intelligence’s character assassination of the deputy chief justice is straight out of the Zuma playbook

Special Investigating Unit to oppose efforts to reject Mkhize report

Former health minister Zweli Mkhize seeks relief to declare the SIU’s conduct against him ‘unlawful and unconstitutional

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…