GIs Hunt Bomb Networks South Of Baghdad

An armed man checks cars coming to Buhriz, 35 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, June 25, 2007, after locals were tipped off of a possible al Qaeda attack on their village. AP Photo

Newly arrived U.S. troops southeast of Baghdad are destroying boats on the Tigris River and targeting networks believed to be bringing powerful roadside bombs from Iran as the military cracks down on extremists from all directions, military officials said.

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:

  • Iraqi authorities issued an arrest warrant against the Sunni culture minister and raided his home on Tuesday after he was accused of ordering an assassination attempt against a secular Sunni politician more than two years ago, officials said. Culture Minister Asad Kamal al-Hashimi, who was not home when the raid occurred, was identified by two suspected militants as the mastermind of a Feb. 8, 2005, ambush against then-parliamentary candidate Mithal al-Alusi, according to governmental spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. Al-Alusi escaped unharmed but two of his sons were killed.

  • Two U.S. soldiers were killed Monday in separate attacks in the Baghdad area, the military said. A roadside bomb killed one Multi-National Division Baghdad soldier and wounded three others when it exploded near a U.S. vehicle during combat operations in an eastern section of the capital, according to a statement.

  • Four of the tribal chiefs meeting at Baghdad's Mansour hotel were among the 13 victims of Monday's suicide blast, police said. The sheiks were associated with the Anbar Salvation Council, which had taken up arms to help drive extremists of al Qaeda in Iraq from the western province of Anbar. Iraq's prime minister quickly vowed renewed support for Anbar province's tribal leaders after the noontime explosion, which also wounded 27 people and devastated the ground floor lobby of the high-rise Mansour Hotel.
    • Amy Clark

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