Update on Iraqi Offensives
LIANE HANSEN, host:
In Iraq this weekend, American and Iraqi military forces launched renewed attacks in their campaign against insurgent operations. And insurgents persisted in their campaign of car bombings and shootings. A car bomb explosion today in a Baghdad restaurant at lunchtime killed more than a dozen people, according to wire service reports, and in Tikrit, the Associated Press reported that a car bomb earlier today killed two Iraqi soldiers and one civilian. In the combined American-Iraqi effort to take the fight to the insurgents, this weekend US Marines claimed to have killed more than 50 insurgents in two attacks in western Iraq. Earlier this morning, we spoke with NPR's Deborah Amos in Baghdad, and she filled us in on the latest reports from the attacks on the insurgents.
DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
Liane, most of what we know about the operation in western Iraq comes from the US military. Reporters were only embedded on the second day of this three-day operation. Apparently, this town, Karabilah, had about 60,000 people in it, but when the US operation got there, it was mainly deserted, save for insurgents. A month ago there was something called Operation Matador, and in that operation the town was filled with people, but the insurgents had fled. So this time it's the reverse. Fighting is still going on today. Those are the reports from the scene. And it is not clear what did happen to those civilians who lived in that town.
HANSEN: What about the insurgents and the places that they were hiding in these and maybe other--some recent attacks? What kinds of things have been found?
AMOS: Well, according to reports from the area, apparently there was a car bomb factory there, and they found some Iraqi hostages. There are reports there was a 19-year-old who was freed as Marines broke down a wall and found four men who were chained to the walls. There were nooses, electric cords, places where apparently their heads were put in water. The 19-year-old, who was questioned, said he'd been there for three weeks. What's very peculiar is the insurgents didn't ask him anything. This was simply torture for torture's sake. But it was the kind of place that we used to see in the Iraqi town of Fallujah last year, and it's clear that the insurgents had set up a camp in this town.
HANSEN: Give us a picture of the allied forces that are launching these attacks against the insurgents. How many American Marines are involved and how many Iraqi military personnel?
AMOS: According to military sources, Liane, this is a big one. These are US forces, British aircraft, and, for the first time, Iraqi soldiers are up there. Now I was on the street a couple of days ago in an Iraqi operation and the Americans who were working with them there pointed out something that I'm sure is happening in western Iraq, and that is their intelligence is better than the US. They can speak the language, they can spot a foreigner, and so this time they have Iraqi soldiers up there with them integrated into Operation Spear.
HANSEN: Now explain why a large amount of this effort has been focused in recent weeks in western portions of the country, near the Syrian border.
AMOS: Liane, on Thursday, a US military official said to a press conference that that part of Iraq was their worst problem. What they say is that this is the area that they find ratlines, which is their description, and that means insurgents are coming across the border. These are foreign fighters. It's a pipeline. And they wanted to shut it down. They have tried before. It's the third operation up there. But they keep coming back. And maybe that explains why last month they were in the town and the civilians were there, and this month the civilians fled because they knew something the insurgents didn't: that the Marines were coming back. So this is a rather large operation. They've been using 500-pound bombs to take out some of these safehouses. It is safe to say there may not be much of that town left, but the idea is to shut off the pipeline.
HANSEN: Talk a little bit about what's happening on the political front. There was some progress this past week; the Shiite-led parliament actually reached an agreement with Sunni political leaders on the process to draft a new Iraqi constitution. How do prospects look for the process?
AMOS: Well, you know, when we talked last week, Liane, we were saying it's stalled. And this week they managed to craft a deal. Now neither side is happy about it. What the Sunnis said is, `We want 25 seats on the constitutional committee.' The Shiite-led government said, `Nope. Fifteen is enough. That's all you're gonna get.' So here's what they did. They put 15 Sunnis on a parallel body to the committee and 10 observers. But how they wrapped this neatly up is they said every vote will be by consensus so it doesn't matter if there's one Sunni or 100 Sunnis. Anybody can derail this process if they don't like the draft constitution as it comes out of that body. So both sides have accepted it. Now the key will be: Can Sunni political leaders, who have only emerged over the last couple of months--can they sell this to a Sunni population who feels like an embattled minority? These were people who were used to positions of power under Saddam's time. They were used to being on top. They are no longer in that position. It is a Shiite-led government. So these leaders are going to have to learn how to sell it to their population.
HANSEN: NPR's Deborah Amos in Baghdad. Deborah, thank you so much.
AMOS: Thank you, Liane.
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