U.S., Iraq Launch New Offensive Near Syrian Border

U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched a major new offensive against insurgents in a town near the Syrian border. The effort in the largely Sunni Al-Anbar province is drawing protests from Sunni political leaders, who says it's intended to keep Sunnis from organizing before the Dec. 15 elections.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

US fighter jets this weekend dropped 500-pound bombs on buildings and other targets in the western Iraqi desert, as American and Iraqi forces continued their latest effort to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters and weapons from entering Iraq through its border with Syria. The offensive in the largely Sunni Al-Anbar province is drawing protests from Sunni political leaders, who call it an effort to keep Sunnis from organizing before elections slated for December 15th. NPR's Peter Kenyon has more from Baghdad.

PETER KENYON reporting:

There are about a thousand Iraqi soldiers joining some 2,500 US Marines, soldiers and sailors in the assault on Husaiba, a Euphrates River town near the Syrian border. Journalists embedded with the troops report a slow house-by-house operation featuring sporadic gunfights. The New York Times reported two Americans wounded in the operation. At least nine air strikes were reported in Saturday's fighting.

American officials say controlling Husaiba will be a big step in reducing the effectiveness of al-Qaeda in Iraq and other insurgent groups. Iraq's defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, said it was well known that some homes in the area were sheltering terrorists, and he vowed, quote, "We will bring down the houses on the heads of their inhabitants." That remark brought angry protests from Sunni politicians, such as Salih al-Mutlaq with the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue. He called Dulaimi's remarks `worthy of a war criminal' and said he should be dismissed.

Mr. SALIH AL-MUTLAQ (Iraqi Front for National Dialogue): I wish that the Iraqi government will decide to change him from his position because this does not give any respect for a government among the world, among the people and among the Iraqis themselves.

KENYON: Mutlaq's anger was further fueled by the attempted assassination yesterday of his deputy, Hakrael Kareesi(ph), critically wounded in a shooting attack on his car by unknown gunmen. A Ministry of Defense official, who would not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the government wasn't impressed by complaints coming from Sunnis with close ties to the former regime of Saddam Hussein, and the battle against terrorism would continue.

US and Iraqi officials say bringing the Sunnis into the political arena is the best way to marginalize the insurgents. Sunnis say if the government wants their participation, it will have to act now to curtail indiscriminate violence. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.

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