Baghdad, June 29 (Reuters): US forces backed by aircraft and armoured vehicles launched an operation today to crack down on armed resistance in areas north of Baghdad where Saddam Hussein once enjoyed wide support.
Washington’s top civilian official in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said US-led forces would suffer further casualties until Saddam loyalists were killed or captured. But US army commander Tommy Franks, who led the swift defeat of Iraq’s army, said recent attacks on US troops did not “spoil the victory”.
US troops detained more than 60 people and seized weapons and military documents as part of the mission, called Operation Sidewinder, in areas from the Iranian border to the east to towns north of the capital. “No coalition forces casualties were reported in the raids. Sidewinder is an ongoing operation,” US Central Command said in a statement.
In another statement, Central Command said 15 people were arrested and some weapons confiscated during raids in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq yesterday. The raids targeted followers of a Wahabi Muslim fundamentalist leader, it said.
Soldiers also imposed tighter measures around military posts, US-led administration offices and ministry buildings in the city of five million, witnesses said. They also stepped up search operations for weapons and wanted Saddam loyalists.
In the latest of a series of hit-and-run attacks, an Iraqi civilian was killed and two US military police were wounded in Baghdad when an explosion targeted a US convoy. US forces in mainly Sunni central Iraq have come under fire almost daily in recent weeks, despite ousting Saddam on April 9. Officers blame scattered remnants of Saddam’s fidayeen paramilitary force and his Baath Party for the attacks.
At least 22 Americans have been killed by hostile fire since US President George W. Bush declared major combat over on May 1. Some analysts have warned that the surge in attacks could lead to open revolt against the occupying forces. “Will the problems in Iraq and the attacks spoil the victory achieved by the Americans' Of course not,” Franks, retiring commander of US Central Command, said after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.
“It is a certainty that the regime of Saddam Hussein is gone from Iraq... It is also a certainty that some 25 (million), maybe 26 million, Iraqis have a brighter future today than they had three or four months ago,” he said. Saturday’s deaths took to more than 200 the number of Americans who have died, both in combat and non-combat incidents, since US forces began the war in Iraq on March 20.