Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Analysis: US-Iraqi assault in Diyala

Above: An Apache attack helicopter in Iraq. The extent of air strikes in Diyala, which include F-16s, is unknown, as the assault is not being extensively covered on scene.

The new operation launched by American and Iraqi troops in Diyala province and its capital Baquba, just north of Baghdad, is one of the biggest campaigns undertaken by US troops since the invasion in 2003.

Codenamed Arrowhead Ripper, the operation involves some 10,000 troops - probably around 6,000 US and 4,000 Iraqis - lifted in by helicopters and backed by massive firepower in the shape of tanks, artillery and close air support.

The first focus of the operation seemed to be on the western quarters of Baquba itself, where fighters from al-Qaeda and likeminded radical Sunni groups have become deeply entrenched in recent months, with government control and services withering away.

First reports from the US-led coalition said 22 "anti-Iraqi forces" had been "engaged and killed" in the early hours of the assault, which began in earnest overnight on Tuesday.

An Iraqi military spokesman later said that 11 "terrorists" had been killed and 21 arrested.

There was no official acknowledgement of civilian casualties.

But the head of Baquba's emergency services told the BBC not long after the operation began that at least 12 civilians had been killed by the end of the first day, including three women.

He said that there were certainly more civilian casualties, but ambulances were being prevented by US troops from going in to evacuate them.

A number of houses had been destroyed, and there were fears that civilians might be trapped in the rubble.

Read the rest at the BBC