- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. forces, joined by Iraqi troops, today launched the largest air assault since the U.S.-led invasion, targeting insurgent strongholds north of the capital, the military said.

The U.S. military said the air- and ground-offensive dubbed Operation Swarmer was aimed at clearing “a suspected insurgent operating area” northeast of Samarra and was expected to continue over several days.

Residents in the targeted area said there was a heavy U.S. and Iraqi troop presence in the area and large explosions could be heard in the distance. It was unclear if the blasts were due to fighting.

The military termed the operation the largest air assault since the 2003 invasion, but it was not clear if any U.S. aircraft opened fire during the operation or if there had been any insurgent resistance.

“More than 1,500 Iraqi and Coalition troops, over 200 tactical vehicles, and more than 50 aircraft participated in the operation,” the military statement said.

It was not clear from the 101st Airborne’s initial statement exactly what it meant by characterizing the attack as the largest air assault operation since the beginning of the Iraq war. It could refer to the number of aircraft involved or the amount of weaponry involved or some other measure of size.

There was no immediate word on whether any fighter jets or other fixed-wing warplanes had dropped bombs or fired missiles as part of the assault. Also left unsaid was how many of the 1,500 total troops involved are Iraqis.

Hoshyar Zebari, the Iraqi interim foreign minister, said the attack had been necessary to prevent insurgents from forming a new stronghold such as they had established in Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

“After Fallujah and some of the operations carried out successfully in the Euphrates and Syrian border, many of the insurgents moved to areas nearer to Baghdad,” Zebari said on CNN. “They have to be pulled out by the roots.”

Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, was the site of a massive bombing against a Shiite shrine on Feb. 22 that touched off sectarian bloodshed that has killed more than 500 and injured hundreds more, threatening to push Iraq into civil war.

It is a key city in Salahuddin province, a major part of the so-called Sunni triangle where insurgents have been active since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion three years ago. Saddam Hussein was captured in the province, not far from its capital and his hometown, Tikrit.

Un recent months U.S. forces have routinely used helicopters to insert troops during operations against insurgent strongholds, especially in the Euphrates River valley between Baghdad and the Syrian border. U.S. warplanes are always in the air, ready to strike targets under direction from troops on the ground.

Thursday’s assault was launched just hours before Iraq’s new parliament was sworn in Thursday, with parties still deadlocked over the next government, vehicles banned from Baghdad’s streets to prevent car bombings and the country under the shadow of a feared civil war.

The long-expected first session, which took place within days of the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion, lasted just over 30 minutes and was adjourned indefinitely because the legislature still has no speaker.

The military operation, residents said, appeared to be concentrated near four villages - Jillam, Mamlaha, Banat Hassan and Bukaddou - about 20 miles north of Samarra. The villages are near the highway leading from Samarra to the city of Adwar.

Waqas al-Juwanya, a spokesman for Iraq’s joint coordination center in nearby Dowr, said “unknown gunmen exist in this area, killing and kidnapping policemen, soldiers and civilians.”

Near the end of the first day of the operation, the military said a number of weapons caches have been captured, containing artillery shells, explosives, bomb-making materials and military uniforms.

It said the attack began with soldiers from the Iraqi army’s 1st Brigade, 4th Division, the U.S. 101st Airborne Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade conducting a combined air and ground assault to isolate the objective area.

Air power backed the operation and delivered troops from the Iraq army’s 4th Division, the Rakkasans from 1st and 3rd Battalions, 187th Infantry Regiment and the Hunters from 2nd Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment to multiple objectives.

The military said forces from the 2nd Commando Brigade then completed a ground infiltration to secure numerous structures in the area.

In its description of the operation, the 101st Airborne Division used the term “air assault,” which refers to the use of attack and transport helicopters to move infantry soldiers to a ground target or group of targets. It does not generally include fixed-wing warplanes like fighter jets or bombers, and there was no early indication that such planes played a predominant role in the assault.

The units of the 101st Airborne that are involved in this operation are equipped with Apache attack helicopters, Black Hawk transport helicopters and Chinook helicopters to are capable of lifting and moving vehicle like Humvees.

In its description of the operation, the 101st Airborne Division used the term “air assault,” which refers to the use of attack and transport helicopters to move infantry soldiers to a ground target or group of targets. It does not generally include fixed-wing warplanes like fighter jets or bombers, and there was no early indication that such planes played a predominant role in the assault.

The units of the 101st Airborne that are involved in this operation are equipped with Apache attack helicopters, Black Hawk transport helicopters and Chinook helicopters to are capable of lifting and moving vehicle like Humvees.

Adnan Pachachi, the senior politician who administered the oath to Iraqi legislators in the absence of a speaker, spoke of a country in crisis.

“We have to prove to the world that a civil war is not and will not take place among our people,” Pachachi told lawmakers. “The danger is still looming and the enemies are ready for us because they do not like to see a united, strong, stable Iraq.”

As Pachachi spoke, he was interrupted from the floor by senior Shiite leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who said the remarks were inappropriate because of their political nature.

Even the oath was a source of disagreement, with the head of the committee that drafted the country’s new constitution, Humam Hammoudi, protesting that lawmakers had strayed from the text. After brief consultations, judicial officials agreed the wording was acceptable.

Meanwhile, a top Iranian official said his country was ready to open direct talks with the United States over Iraq, marking a major shift in foreign policy a day after al-Hakim called for such talks.

The White House said the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is authorized to talk with Iran about Iraq, much as the United States has talked with Iran about issues relating to Afghanistan.

“But this is a very narrow mandate dealing specifically with issues relating to Iraq,” presidential press secretary Scott McClellan said.

Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, also told reporters that any talks between the United States and Iran would deal only with Iraqi issues.

“To resolve Iraqi issues and help establishment of an independent and free government in Iraq, we agree to (talks with the United States),” Larijani said after a closed meeting of the parliament Thursday.

Larijani said Khalilzad had invited Iran for talks on Iraq.

Washington repeatedly has accused Iran of meddling in Iraq’s affairs and of sending weapons and men to help insurgents in Iraq, allegations the Iranians have denied.

A pianist played as representatives of Iraq’s main ethnic and religious blocs - many in traditional Arab and Kurdish dress - filed into a convention center behind the concrete blast walls of the heavily fortified Green Zone for parliament’s first meeting.

Hours after the session adjourned, two mortar shells were fired into the Green Zone, Interior Ministry official Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. No casualties were reported.

The inaugural session started the clock on a 60-day period in which parliament must elect a president and approve a prime minister and Cabinet.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide