- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military launched a major combat operation yesterday as 1,000 Marines and Iraqi soldiers fanned out to track down insurgents and foreign fighters in a volatile western province bordering Syria.

Operation Spear began before dawn in Anbar province, the military said. The area is where the U.S. military said it killed about 40 militants in air strikes in Karabilah on June 11.

The operation began a day after Air Force Brig. Gen. Don Alston called the Syrian border the “worst problem” in terms of stemming the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq. Syria is under intense pressure from Washington and Baghdad to tighten control of its porous 380-mile border with Iraq.

The military also said two U.S. Marines were killed by a roadside bomb Thursday during combat operations near Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad.

The deaths raised to 13 the number of Marines killed in and around the volatile Anbar province in separate attacks during the past week. Two sailors also have died.

At least 1,716 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

Also yesterday, a suicide car bomber slammed into a loaded fuel tanker as it drove through Baghdad’s eastern suburbs, killing two persons and injuring another six, police said. The car hit the tanker after it missed an Iraqi army patrol in the Kamaliyah suburb.

A second suicide car bomber targeting a senior police commander killed two civilians and wounded 11 others, including seven civilians and four traffic officers in Fallujah, police said.

Maj. Gen. Mahdi Sabih, police brigade commander for the Interior Ministry’s new public order unit, escaped unharmed. Gen. Sabih, also Fallujah’s mayor, had just attended a ceremony and was leaving when the attacker rammed a sedan into the crowd, police said.

Fallujah is a town in Anbar province 40 miles west of Baghdad.

A car bomb blew up outside a mosque in the western town of Habaniyah, killing four persons and injuring another 15, the U.S. Marines said.

The U.S. military said a child was killed during an “escalation of force” incident between a vehicle and an Army foot patrol in western Baghdad at about 9 p.m. Thursday.

Elsewhere, a suicide car bomber rammed an Iraqi army convoy in northern Iraq, injuring at least seven persons — three soldiers, three civilians and a policeman, police said. The blast came on the heels of a suicide car bomb on Baghdad’s airport road Thursday that killed eight police officers and wounded 25.

On June 11, the Marines engaged the insurgents after the militants took control of a road just outside Karabilah near the Iraqi-Syrian frontier city of Qaim, about 200 miles west of Baghdad.

During that battle, insurgents killed 21 persons, beheading three of them. Those bodies, found June 10, were believed to belong to a group of missing Iraqi soldiers.

During the air strikes, Marine aircraft fired seven precision-guided missiles at insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. No U.S. troops or civilians were injured.

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