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US mounts major Iraq assault


AFP: US troops in Iraq launched a major assault against Al-Qaeda-linked militants and alleged Iranian-aided extremist groups on Monday as a Sunni leader accused Iran of plotting genocide against his people. by Jay Deshmukh

BAGHDAD, Aug 13, 2007 (AFP) – US troops in Iraq launched a major assault against Al-Qaeda-linked militants and alleged Iranian-aided extremist groups on Monday as a Sunni leader accused Iran of plotting genocide against his people.

Operation Phantom Strike, the military announced, was being waged nationwide to disrupt Shiite extremist networks and insurgents affiliated to Al-Qaeda, which the Americans blame for most of the violence besieging the country.

“It consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing remaining AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements,” the military said.

“My intent is to continue to pressure AQI and other extremist elements throughout Iraq to reduce their capabilities,” said Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the number two commander of US forces in Iraq.

The US military declined to elaborate, citing “security concerns.”

“But I can say this effort will be a top priority for combat units operating in Iraq for this period leading up to Ramadan,” a spokesman said, referring to the Muslim month of fasting due to begin in the second week of September.

US authorities regularly accuse Iranian elements, including Tehran’s elite Quds Force, of arming, funding and training Iraqi extremist groups to carry out attacks on its troops in Iraq — charges denied by Tehran.

The US military also announced the arrests of a top “financier” of Iraqi extremist groups believed to be supported by the Quds Force, and a medical doctor it accused of harbouring and supplying Al-Qaeda affiliates in Baghdad.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, who heads a party in the main Sunni bloc that resigned from Iraq’s fraying coalition government two weeks ago, meanwhile, launched a vitriolic verbal attack on Iran, accusing it of supporting genocide in Iraq.

In an open letter written in the name of Sunni Arabs, Dulaimi’s office appealed to the wider Arab world to intervene.

“Your brothers in Baghdad are facing an unprecedented campaign of genocide carried out by militias and death squads under Iranian direction, planning, support and weaponry,” said the statement obtained by AFP on Monday.

“By God, it is a war that started in Baghdad and will not stop there. It will engulf any place where Arabic is spoken.

“Use all means to stand up to Iran, as you are its next target. It is trying to occupy your Iraq, the Gulf and all your countries,” it added.

The Sunni bloc, the National Concord Front to which Dulaimi belongs, walked out of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s government on August 1, effectively ending any pretence by the Shiite-dominated coalition to national unity.

The bloc has accused the government of failing to rein in Shiite militias responsible for killing Sunnis in the brutal Iraqi sectarian strife.

Maliki, a Shiite, last week held two days of talks in largely Shiite Iran, where he received a warm welcome and where he was quoted by Iranian state media as praising Iran’s “constructive” role in “fighting terrorism in Iraq.”

US President George W. Bush took issue with that statement and Washington has warned Iraq’s leaders to work harder on unity, concerned that political impasse could undermine the efforts of 155,000 US troops to end the conflict.

Maliki on Sunday called on senior leaders from the country’s bitterly divided communities to hold crisis talks this week in an effort to save his fraying national unity government.

Seventeen ministerial posts in his government are empty or filled by members boycotting cabinet meetings amid protests by many parties, not just the main Sunni Arab bloc, at Maliki’s faltering programme of national reconciliation.

Hopes that his so-called unity coalition can be saved now depend on the senior leadership of the rival parties cutting a new power-sharing deal that can convince the bitter Sunni minority to return to the fold.

The National Concord Front has agreed to participate in the summit, although Dulaimi’s attack on Iran is unlikely to ease tensions.

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