U.S. Announces Large-Scale Air Attack on Iraqi Insurgent Bases
By Edward Wong
THE NEW YORK TIMES
The U.S. military announced Thursday that it had begun a large-scale assault on insurgent bases outside of Samarra, a city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine last month sent sectarian violence soaring in Iraq.
In Baghdad, Iraqi legislators convened the long-awaited first session of the new Parliament. The body’s 275 members, all elected in December, were sworn in, and leaders delivered speeches calling for unity before adjourning the session and rushing to continue negotiations to form a full government.
The assault outside Samarra, which was led by the 101st Airborne Division but also included other American and Iraqi ground units, involved more than 50 aircraft for transport and air cover, hundreds of armored vehicles, and a total of about 1,500 American and Iraqi troops, military spokesmen said. The Sunni Arab-dominated area has long been troubling for the American military, which has repeatedly raided it but with little lasting effect on the insurgency.
The American military called the new operation the largest air assault — a military term for the insertion of soldiers by helicopters — since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But in terms of overall scale, it did not involve relatively large numbers of soldiers: for comparison, one of the armored sweeps in Anbar Province late last year involved about 3,500 American and Iraqi troops.
Initial reports indicated that soldiers taking part in this latest operation, which is expected to last for several days, had come across insurgent hideouts with six stockpiles of artillery shells, explosives, bomb-making equipment and military uniforms, spokesmen for the 101st Airborne Division said. Soldiers also detained at least 40 men suspected of being insurgents. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.
The American military did not explain whether the operation was connected in any way to the bombing last month that destroyed the famed golden mosque dome at the Askariya Shrine, one of Shiite Islam’s holiest sites, and spurred Shiite militiamen to rampage across eastern Baghdad and cities in the south, leaving hundreds dead.