U.S. Troops Enter Volatile Iraq Province

U.S. Army Stryker Soldiers with Company B, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, roll through a village en route to Baqouba, Iraq, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, Tuesday, March 13, 2007.
AP Photo/U.S. Army, HO
Some 700 American soldiers rolled into Baqouba on Tuesday, shifting out of Baghdad to help carry the security campaign against sectarian violence to a nearby volatile province where Sunni Arab insurgents fled ahead of the crackdown in the capital.

The fresh troops from the Army's 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment — equipped with Stryker armored vehicles — joined 3,500 U.S. and 20,000 Iraqi soldiers already in Diyala, where insurgents have stepped up attacks as violence appears to be ebbing in Baghdad.

U.S. commanders said they had been planning to fan out from Baghdad into communities around the capital, such as Baqouba 35 miles to the northeast, to go after insurgents and clandestine workshops that rig car bombs used in attacks in the capital.

"This is not a haphazard fire drill to save the house from burning," Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq, told The Associated Press. "We began looking at this several months ago in support of the Baghdad plan. We knew the surrounding provinces would be in play."

The 5th Battalion's move occurred as more than 20,000 U.S. troops are pouring into Baghdad seeking to end the bombings, kidnappings and execution-style killings that paralyzed the Iraqi government and threatened the nation with all-out sectarian war.

As U.S. troops pressed the crackdown in the capital, two roadside bombs killed two American soldiers and wounded four Tuesday, the military reported.

With sectarian bloodshed ebbing in Baghdad, attacks on U.S. troops in Diyala have risen 70 percent since summer, according to U.S. figures.

Over the weekend, gunmen believed to be Sunni extremists raided a farming community outside the Diyala city of Muqdadiyah, setting fire to at least 15 houses, slaughtering livestock and driving off the residents, the U.S. military said Tuesday. It quoted residents as saying they tried to defend their homes but fled after they ran out of ammunition.

U.S. officials attribute the rise to Sunni insurgents who fled the capital to areas where they have support from al Qaeda and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime.

The former al Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baqouba last June. Since then, the Islamic State of Iraq, another group with links to al Qaeda, has claimed Baqouba as capital of its self-proclaimed shadow government.

In other developments:

  • Iraqi President Jalal Talabani will leave his Jordanian hospital on Wednesday and return to Baghdad, Iraq's ambassador to Jordan said Tuesday. Talabani was admitted to an Amman hospital on Feb. 25 after collapsing from exhaustion and dehydration in Iraq. Ambassador Saad al-Hayyani did not provide further details.
  • Iraq's Shiite prime minister on Tuesday made a groundbreaking and unannounced visit to Ramadi, the Sunni insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad, a senior staff member told The Associated Press.
  • House Democratic leaders are narrowing the focus of a likely confrontation with President Bush over the Iraq war by backing off from their demand that they approve any action against Iran. The requirement is being removed from a 100 billion dollar military spending bill.
  • With violence down in Baghdad, U.S. troops will fan out into communities on the rim of the capital to shut down car bomb factories, which remain a threat despite a recent drop in execution-style killings in the city, the U.S. military said. At least 55 people have been killed by bombs in Baghdad over the last three days, including three security guards who died Monday in a blast targeting an Agriculture Ministry convoy.
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      Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.