Baghdad Sweep Nets Hundreds of Suspected Insurgents

More than 2,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are sweeping western Baghdad in a hunt for insurgents. They've arrested hundreds of people since the operation began over the weekend. The U.S. military is calling it "Operation Squeeze Play." Melissa Block talks about the roundup with Sabrina Tavernise, a reporter for the New York Times in Baghdad.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad, a major military operation is wrapping up. Starting on Sunday, thousands of Iraqi and US soldiers conducted house-to-house searches looking for insurgents and people who support them. New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise was embedded with US troops involved in the sweep.

Ms. SABRINA TAVERNISE (The New York Times): They arrested 437 people over the course of about 18 hours, which is a lot. The troops that I was with, the Iraqi troops, were mainly Shiites and Kurds, and they were going through the neighborhoods, you know, bit by bit. They didn't really take much fire. They only had sort of firefights a couple of times over the course of a couple of days.

But today we were walking in one area in the eastern part of the district that had been particularly dangerous. There were--oh, I don't know. We talked to maybe 10 or 15 residents. They were out kind of--you know, some were fixing their cars and some were selling candy and soda on the streets. And, you know, we were able to walk around freely, which the troops were saying four days ago, they were being shot at like crazy in the area.

BLOCK: And why was this neighborhood the focus of this operation?

Ms. TAVERNISE: There had been a lot of problems in Abu Ghraib, a lot of mortar attacks, a very, very dangerous area. It was an area that, as the American commander described, you know, you couldn't--walking through it or being on patrol in it, you'd be--you'd come under fire maybe 10 to 15 times. It was also an area that they suspected of having a couple of car bomb assembly operations, and that's been a real problem in Baghdad.

BLOCK: How would you describe the division of labor in this operation between the Iraqi forces and the US forces who are working alongside them?

Ms. TAVERNISE: The Iraqis really were doing work. Basically, the US forces--there were many--far fewer US forces, and they would stay out by sort of checkpoints and cordoned areas, sort of order (technical difficulties) while the Iraqis were doing the work in the neighborhoods. So really, it was--the Americans were, you know, advising and they were helping with communications and radio-type stuff, but really, the Iraqis were doing the work.

BLOCK: The Iraqi forces here are largely Shia; the population in this neighborhood is largely Sunni. Did that lead to any tensions? Did you talk to anybody in the neighborhood to see how they were responding?

Ms. TAVERNISE: Well, unfortunately, I didn't because I was not with a translator, so I was relying on a very smart and efficient Kurdish army commander. We talked to some people in the neighborhood, and one of them expressed some concern that someone he knows or one of his friends had been arrested, and he said, you know, `You're not arresting just bad guys; you're catching a bunch of other people, too. He wasn't guilty of anything.' So, you know, people were--at least one person was saying, `Well, hey, you got the wrong person.'

BLOCK: Sabrina Tavernise, thanks very much.

Ms. TAVERNISE: Thank you.

BLOCK: New York Times reporter Sabrina Tavernise, speaking with us from Baghdad.

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