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The overall offensive around Baqouba is expected to last many weeks. U.S. military commanders have said the combined operations take advantage of the completion of a buildup of U.S. forces in Iraq to 156,000.

President Bush has sent 28,000 more troops to Iraq to buy time for Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reach a political compromise with disaffected minority Sunni Arabs, who are locked in a cycle of violence with majority Shi’ites.

Separately, a pre-dawn operation by U.S. forces working with Iraqi informants in Baghdad’s main Shi’ite district of Sadr City netted three other militants suspected of ties to Iran, the military said.

The U.S. has accused Iran of providing mainly Shi’ite militias with training and powerful roadside bombs that have killed hundreds of American troops in recent months.