U.S. Launches New Operation in Baghdad Area

In what appears to be a new major U.S. military operation in Iraq, multiple explosions have been heard in the Baghdad region.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

The overnight hours in Baghdad have been rocked by dozens of loud explosions. The U.S. military says it's the opening phase of an operation by American and Iraqi forces. They're targeting car bomb factories in and around the capital.

NPR's Tom Bowman is with us from Baghdad.

Tom, what can you tell us about this operation?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, we've heard numerous explosions over the past two hours, and this is the beginning of a concentrated effort against these car bomb networks. And what we heard - we're told by American military officials - was ground fire, likely precision artillery rounds, against numerous targets in these neighborhoods. And this will be followed up over the next several days, and also include U.S. and Iraqi troops going into these areas and clearing out these car bomb factories.

NORRIS: How many neighborhoods are targeted? How many were hit?

BOWMAN: Well, quite a few neighborhoods. They include the Mansour neighborhood west of - the western part of the city. The Mia(ph) neighborhood in the central part. The Rusafia(ph) neighborhood in the southern part of the city, and also Salmonpak(ph) area, which is actually outside of Baghdad to the south.

So quite a few neighborhoods and, again, numerous targets. They're not saying exactly how many at this point.

NORRIS: Any word on casualties?

BOWMAN: No word at all on casualties. And again, this just happened over - the shelling really stopped about an hour ago, and it went on for about an hour and a half, two hours. So no word yet on casualties. But again, these are very dense neighborhoods within this city, so we're still waiting on any word of casualties.

NORRIS: Now we hear all the time about a large number of car bombings in and around Baghdad. It seems that this presents a very serious threat for the military and for residents there.

BOWMAN: Well, it really is. And military officials tell us that this is what they're going after now, that they're very worried about these car bomb attacks. It has become the devastating weapon of choice, if you will, by the Sunni insurgents.

And earlier in February, there was an attack in a Baghdad market by a car bomb, which killed 135 people and wounded more than 200. And that was followed by another car bomb attack north of Baghdad against the police station, which also was devastating and killed numerous people.

It's really among the most powerful form of what is known as an improvised explosive device or IED, and these IEDs account for roughly 60 to 70 percent of all American casualties. So it's something they're really trying to get their arms around, how to deal with these car bombs. And actually, out in Ramadi just last week, they uncovered a car bomb factory in an old chicken coop, so...But this is something very serious, this operation. We're just in the beginning phases of now, a very concentrated and serious effort to go after these in the city of Baghdad and the surrounding areas.

NORRIS: Tom, is this effort to target what are thought to be car bomb factories, is this part of the overall stepped up security effort in Baghdad?

BOWMAN: Absolutely. This is part of what they call Operation Enforcing the Law, which just started two weeks ago. And what - part of this is to set up joint security stations, which are essentially little operating bases for police, Army - Iraqi army and U.S. forces. And they're going to set up another one in Sadr City in the next couple of days - the Shiite area of the city, the main Shiite area.

And this is all part and parcel of that, this operation against these car bomb factories.

NORRIS: One last very quick question, Tom. You mentioned that this is a joint effort between U.S. and Iraqi forces. Is it clear what role the Iraqis are playing in this?

BOWMAN: Well, it's not. But on most of these missions, Iraqi forces go out with U.S. forces, so they're really hand in hand in many of these operations. And oftentimes, the Iraqi forces - since they obviously know the area - they provide the intelligence. And the American forces a lot of time will provide the fire, the helicopters that go along, the transportation by helicopters - and again, some of these artillery rounds are clearly American. So the Iraqis provide the intelligence. Americans provide the weaponry.

NORRIS: Thank you, Tom.

BOWMAN: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Tom Bowman speaking to us from Baghdad.

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