- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2005

QAIM, Iraq — Hundreds of U.S. troops combed through a village near the Syrian border yesterday, breaking into houses and fighting sporadic gunbattles on the second day of an offensive against al Qaeda insurgents. At least eight militants were killed, the military said.

Many residents fled Sadah village into Syria before the offensive began, witnesses said, and the 1,000 U.S. troops involved appeared to be widening the sweep into two nearby towns.

In Karabila, troops with loudspeakers warned residents to stay inside their homes for safety. In Rumana, a town on the other side of the Euphrates River, helicopters fired on several houses, said witnesses on the condition of anonymity.

A U.S. military spokeswoman in Baghdad said she could not confirm that the offensive had expanded from Sadah to Karabila and Rumana.

No American casualties were reported in the action, which is aimed at rooting out militants who have been using Sadah as a sanctuary, closing supply routes and stemming violence ahead of the Oct. 15 vote on a new constitution.

But al Qaeda in Iraq said it captured two U.S. Marines participating in the offensive and threatened in a Web statement to kill them within 24 hours. The authenticity of the statement could not be verified.

A U.S. military spokesman said the assertion is false. “I have not heard anything about any of our folks being taken,” said Lt. Col. Steve Boylan. “I would suspect that these are unfounded rumors, as that is what has happened in the past.”

Elsewhere in Iraq, insurgents in Baghdad kidnapped the brother of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, the Shi’ite official who heads police forces, and the son of another top ministry official was kidnapped north of the capital, police said.

Mr. Jabr was in Amman, Jordan, for talks when his brother was snatched late Saturday. The minister said yesterday that the abduction ultimately targeted him.

“They wanted to pressure me,” Mr. Jabr told Jordan’s state-run Petra News Agency.

A day earlier, the minister told Reuters news agency that documents seized from a militant leader captured last week showed that al Qaeda in Iraq planned to take its terror campaign to other countries.

“We got hold of a very important letter from Abu Azzam to [al Qaeda in Iraq’s leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi asking him to begin to move a number of Arab fighters to the countries they came from to transfer their experience in car bombings in Iraq,” Mr. Jabr said. “So you will see insurgencies in other countries.”

The assault on Sadah, called Operation Iron Fist, was the fourth large offensive near the Syrian border since May. But the militants generally flee in the face of the assaults, then return once most of the troops have withdrawn.

Yesterday, insurgents hiding in houses fired sporadically on U.S. troops in the streets, but Sadah largely was calm, said residents in the village eight miles east of the Syrian border.

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