U.S. troops rounded up 49 suspected guerrillas near Saddam Hussein's hometown on Friday, a day after Iraq's most violent rebel groups warned voters against taking part in crucial elections for a constitutional assembly on Jan. 30.
Soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division detained the suspects during a midnight raid in Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad, codenamed Operation Powder River, the U.S. military said.
The statement did not provide any further details on the operation, which appears to be the latest in a series of anti-insurgency campaigns in the so-called Sunni Triangle in central Iraq. Duluiyah is near Saddam's hometown of Tikrit.
In other developments:
Insurgents have been ratcheting up the pressure on the U.S.-led multinational forces as the campaign for the Jan. 30 elections heats up. Rebels have mainly targeted members of the interim government's security forces who are perceived by the militants as collaborators with American occupiers.
The United States and the interim government in Baghdad, which say the vote must go forward, have repeatedly sought to portray recent attacks that have killed dozens of people as the acts of a reeling insurgency, not the work of a force that is gathering strength.
On Thursday, the radical Ansar al-Sunnah Army and two other insurgent groups issued a statement warning that democracy was un-Islamic. Democracy could lead to passing un-Islamic laws, such as permitting homosexual marriage, if the majority or people agreed to it, the statement said.
"Democracy is a Greek word meaning the rule of the people, which means that the people do what they see fit," said the statement. "This concept is considered apostasy and defies the belief in one God — Muslims' doctrine."
Ansar al-Sunnah earlier posted a manifesto on its Web site saying democracy amounts to idolizing human beings. Thursday's joint statement — also signed by the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Mujahedeen Army — reiterated the threat that "anyone who accepts to take part in this dirty farce will not be safe."
Insurgents have intensified their strikes against the security forces of Iraq's U.S.-installed interim government as part of a continuing campaign to disrupt the elections for a constitutional assembly.
The statements by the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgent groups seemed aimed at countering Shiite leaders' claims that voting in the election is every Muslim's duty. Shiites, who make up 60 percent of the population, hope to use the vote to power from minority Sunnis, who were favored under Saddam.
Iraqis will elect a national assembly that is to write a new constitution.
On Friday, Adel al-Lami, a senior member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, denied a report by The Al-Jazeera satellite channel that all 700 workers for the electoral commission in Mosul resigned Thursday because they had been threatened.
"The report is not true," al-Lami told The Associated Press. "Only two people resigned and they are the head of the (electoral) office in Mosul and an accountant" he said, adding that they stepped down "for personal reasons" and not because of threats.