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210 Arrests In 'Triangle Of Death'

Multinational troops have arrested 210 suspected militants in a weeklong crackdown against insurgents in an area south of Baghdad known as the "triangle of death," the U.S. military command said Wednesday.

The announcement of the arrests came as Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who arrived in Jordan late Tuesday, prepared to meet with influential Iraqis living abroad and the host nation's king in a bid to drum up support for Iraq's Jan. 30 elections.

Allawi has sought to play down expectations that his meetings would mark a breakthrough in curbing the violence ahead of elections, saying Jordan was simply the first stop on a tour that would take him to Germany and Russia.

Before leaving Baghdad, Allawi said his government would pursue contacts with "tribal figures" and other influential Iraqis to encourage broad participation in the elections, which some Sunni Muslim clerics have threatened to boycott.

Allawi, however, branded reports that he would meet with former figures in Saddam Hussein's Baath party as "an invention by the media," although word of such contacts came last week from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry. Former Baath party leaders are believed to form the core of the insurgency.

In other developments:

  • In northern Iraq, gunmen opened fire on a team of technicians sent out to repair the main northern oil pipeline in the Safrah area, 50 miles southwest of Kirkuk. One man was injured in the attack. The pipeline, which has been sabotaged repeatedly in recent months, carries crude oil to the Turkish port of Ceyhan.
  • In Kirkuk, three Iraqi National Guardsmen were wounded by a roadside bomb Wednesday when insurgents ambushed them on their way to the Northern Oil Company's headquarters,, Brig. Gen. Sarhad Qader said.
  • suicide bomber blew up his vehicle Wednesday at an Iraqi checkpoint near an insurgent stronghold south of Baghdad, injuring seven Iraqis, the U.S. military said. Iraqi police said initial reports indicated that one Iraqi passer-by was also killed. The attack occurred near the main bridge at Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad in what has become known as the "triangle of death." The U.S. military said no Marines nor Iraqi soldiers were killed or injured and the suicide driver was the only occupant of the vehicle.

    On Wednesday, the military said in a statement that Iraqi government forces and U.S. Marines rounded up 15 new suspects during operations on Tuesday, bringing the total to 210. A militant was killed when a mortar round he was planting near a busy road in the area exploded prematurely, it said.

    The operation, codenamed Plymouth Rock, was launched in part as a follow-up to last month's assault on Fallujah, the main insurgent bastion 40 miles west of Baghdad. U.S. commanders want to cut off escape routes for Fallujah fighters and pacify the troubled region ahead of national elections in January.

    Separately, U.S. troops detained 17 suspected militants during a series of raids on Tuesday in and around Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city.

    The city's entire 5,000 member police force disintegrated during an insurgent uprising last month, forcing the U.S. command and the interim government to divert troops the offensive in Fallujah to retake the city.

    At least 50 people have been killed in Mosul in the past two weeks — most of them believed to have been supporters of the interim government or members of its security forces.

    Meanwhile, insurgents continued to launch attacks along Baghdad's dangerous airport highway.

    Three people were injured Wednesday morning in a suicide attack at the same spot on the highway where a suicide bomber rammed into a U.S. military convoy a day earlier, wounding several soldiers.

    The U.S. military command said that a "vehicle-borne improvised explosive device" had detonated on the highway Wednesday, but could not provide further details.

    Iraqi police Capt. Talib al-Alwani said three civilians were injured in the attack against two SUVs traveling toward the airport, just west of the capital.

    Witnesses said one of the SUVs hit by the blast was lying overturned in the middle of the road.

    Insurgents frequently target the highway because multinational troops use it daily to commute between the huge military base at the airport and the city center.