But a top U.S. commander warned on Monday that three or four times more Iraqi security forces are needed to sustain the progress in clearing the area and stopping the flow of arms and makeshift bombs into the capital.
The operation south of Baghdad come a day after a stealthy suicide bomber slipped into a busy hotel in the capital and blew himself up in the midst of a gathering of U.S.-allied tribal sheiks, undermining efforts to forge a front against the extremists of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, whose command covers the southern rim of Baghdad and mostly Shiite areas to the south, said the reinforcements who arrived as part of a troop buildup have had success in rooting out militants from their sanctuaries and preventing them from fleeing the area in an operation called Marne Torch — one of a quartet of offensives in the capital and surrounding areas.
"All along the Tigris River valley, people knew this is where the Sunni extremists were storing munitions, training for operations, building IEDs to take them into Baghdad," he said, referring to improvised explosive devices, the term the military uses for roadside bombs.
"They just didn't have the reach to get down there. Now with the surge brigades they've got the reach. But the issue is we can't stay here forever and there's gotta be a persistent presence and that's gotta be Iraqi security forces. And that's always our biggest concern," he said while visiting troops from the 3rd Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team at a U.S. patrol base on the southeastern edge of Baghdad.
The dusty base is nestled between high sand berms on what was the Tuwaitha nuclear complex, which was bombed during the U.S.-led invasion and subsequently looted, near the mainly Shiite village of Jasr Diyala, 12 miles southeast of Baghdad.
In other developments: