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Iraqi Troops Sweep Through Baghdad, Bombings Continue

In Iraq, Operation Lightning continues, but a suicide bomber slipped through the net and hit the main checkpoint into Baghdad International Airport. Iraqi security forces have reportedly arrested hundreds of insurgents in a city-wide sweep this week.

In the south Baghdad suburb of Jadriya, police bring prisoners into the local station for questioning.

Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr says at least 700 suspected terrorists have been taken into custody during the first four days of Operation Lightning, a giant cordon and search operation aimed at stamping out insurgent car bombers.

The latest in a series of recent bombings took place on the airport road early Wednesday. It inflicted comparatively light casualties, but it underscored the threat from suicide bombers, which continues despite the government's promises of new, aggressive tactics to make Baghdad safe.

The bomb went off close to the Flying Man, a statue of medieval astronomer Abbas Ibn Firnas, whose artificial wings stretch over a pair of parking lots at the end of the airport road.

Witnesses said the explosion destroyed several vehicles and produced a large cloud of black smoke. Insurgents followed up with gunfire aimed at Iraqi security forces around the airport checkpoint.

The 10-mile-long airport road, often described as the most dangerous thoroughfare in the country, is frequently the scene of suicide bombs and ambushes.

Meanwhile, U.S. attack helicopters scanned Baghdad's streets and alleys as the Iraqi-led security sweep continues.

Some 10,000 U.S. troops are on hand to support the reported 40,000 Iraqi police and army troops involved in the operation, which officials said went into full swing on Sunday.

But people say they see few signs of a massive operation. Some motorists report they have been able to drive from one end of Baghdad to the other without being stopped and searched.

In separate raids since Monday, U.S. troops captured four wanted militants, including an alleged former spy in the secret service of deposed president Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. military says the former spy was thought to be financing terrorist groups in western Baghdad's Ghazaliya district, and may also have worked as a cameraman to film insurgent attacks against coalition forces.

In an interview with VOA Wednesday, Iraq's Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, said he has asked U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan for a larger United Nations involvement in Iraq. Mr. Zebari says Mr. Annan has agreed to appoint an advisor for electoral assistance in the scheduled referendum on the permanent constitution and the elections at the end of the year.