U.S. and Iraqi troops captured eight suspected insurgents Thursday in raids north of Baghdad as part of a campaign to prevent insurgents from regrouping outside the city during the ongoing security crackdown.
The operation took place in Duluiyah and the Jabouri peninsula — a bend in the Tigris River about 55 miles north of Baghdad — part of the Sunni areas around Baghdad where insurgents have fled since the crackdown in the capital began last month.
The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said the security operation would be extended beyond the city limits to target these areas, which he referred to as "the Baghdad belt."
Petraeus did not put a time limit on how long the additional troops might remain in Iraq, but he said they're likely to be there beyond the summer, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.
"The priority clearly is Baghdad, (but) anyone who knows about security in Baghdad knows you must also secure the 'Baghdad belts'— in other words, the areas that surround Baghdad," Petraeus told reporters at his first news conference since taking command last month.
Petraeus said the security operation would continue as long as necessary "to achieve its desired effect."
"We are still in the early days of this endeavor — an endeavor that will take months, not weeks, to fully implement," Petraeus said.
Petraeus acknowledged that some kinds of attacks are almost impossible to stop, reports Logan.
"There is a point at which if someone is willing to blow up himself, particularly, perhaps, disguise himself, and use a vest rather than a vehicle, the problem becomes very, very difficult indeed," he said.
Petraeus also said he had not decided whether to ask for additional troops beyond the 21,500 combat forces already earmarked for Baghdad. The last of the reinforcements are due in early June, he said.
In other developments:
The New York Times reported that the operational commander, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, recommended that the extra troops remain until February 2008. Odierno said the extra troops are needed to allow time to win over the Iraqi populace.
"We've done that, but I certainly have not reached a conclusion," he added. "It needs to be sustained well beyond the summer, but we'll have to see."
Despite the general's cautious tone, Baghdad was relatively quiet Thursday. Police reported finding 10 bodies with signs of torture — presumably victims of Sunni-Shiite reprisal killings. That figure was well down from the 40 to 50 bodies found each day before the operation began.
Three mortar shells exploded in the Baghdad International Airport compound, breaking windows at the headquarters of Iraqi Airways but causing no casualties, witnesses said.
To the south, Shiite pilgrims continued their trek to the holy city of Karbala, where rituals were to begin Friday to mark the end of a 40-day mourning period after the anniversary of the death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson. Millions were expected to attend the weekend observance.
More than 340 people have been killed across Iraq this week, mostly in assaults on Shiite pilgrims. Pilgrims will mark the 40th day of mourning for the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
Hussein's death in battle near Karbala in the 7th century cemented the rift between Sunnis and Shiites.
Iraqi forces have set up checkpoints on roads leading into Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, and at least 10,000 policemen have been deployed to the city, Iraqi officials said.
In scattered violence elsewhere, police said a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi police patrol in Mosul, killing two policemen and wounding seven civilians, police said. Two Iraqi soldiers were killed in a drive-by shooting in Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, police said.
Meanwhile, bitter disagreements are separating the Iraqi government and Arab countries ahead of a Baghdad conference on Saturday that the U.S. had hoped would finally unite them in efforts to stabilize the war-torn nation.
Sunni-led Arab governments plan to use the conference to press for a greater Sunni role in Iraq. That has rankled Iraq's Shiite leaders, who believe the Arabs are trying to reverse their newfound power after decades of being marginalized under Sunni minority rule.
The gathering could provide a crucial opportunity for talks between the United States and Iran, though it is not clear if they will hold direct meetings on the sidelines of the multilateral conference.
David Satterfield, the top State Department adviser on Iraq, said Thursday that the U.S. will not walk away from direct one-on-one talks with Iran or Syria, but the Bush administration apparently does not plan to seek out such contact.