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US, Iraqi Troops Start New Operation in Western Iraq


A U.S. Marine writes an identification number on the forehead of an Iraqi man detained during a search in Haditha
Officials say 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops searched for insurgents in the western city of Haditha Wednesday following an upsurge in violence that killed 600 people across Iraq this month.

U.S. officials say 10 suspected insurgents were killed and two U.S. Marines wounded in Operation New Market. It says one of the dead was an imam who was firing an assault rifle at U.S. and Iraqi troops.

The operation is the second major offensive in al-Anbar province this month. It is aimed at finding fighters thought to be loyal to the most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

VOA's Patricia Noonan reported from Baghdad that the U.S. military has confirmed the arrest of an aid to the al-Qaida chief in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, by Iraqi forces near the city of Baquba.

A statement released by the U.S. military describes Mullah Kamel al-Aswadi as the most wanted terrorist in north-central Iraq.

Officials say Iraqi forces made the arrest of al-Aswadi as he tried to bribe his way through a checkpoint in the town of Balad. His vehicle was found to contain a global positioning system, multiple identification papers, a scope used to launch mortars, and U.S. currency.

Officials say al-Aswadi served as a key aid to Iraq's al-Qaida front man, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born militant. The statement says al-Aswadi was involved in the funding of terror cells, terrorist training, and the making of car and roadside bombs.

On Tuesday, an Islamist website al-Zarqawi reported had been wounded, and asked for his supporters to offer prayers for his recovery. It did not say how he was injured or where he was. U.S. officials could not confirm the authenticity of the statement.

In other developments, a car bomb killed two people in Baghdad Wednesday.

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