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Iraqi and Coalition Troops to Seal Baghdad


Iraqi security officials have promised to seal off the capital next week in an aggressive operation to root out insurgents and halt the wave of car bombs that has plagued the country during the past month.

Minister of Interior Bayan Jabar said the government would switch from defense to attack in the fight against insurgents. The government says the attacks have killed 620 people, including more than 400 civilians, since elected politicians formed a government at the end of last month.

Minister of Defense Saddoun al-Duleimi said the government means to enforce the law not only against killers, but also against anyone who commands them or gives them shelter.

He said that a ring of 40,000 police and army troops will make unauthorized movement in or out of the city impossible for several days.

Iraqi police and army forces, closely supported by U.S. units, launched aggressive cordon and search tactics in the capital and other cities four-days ago, reportedly netting 578 suspected terrorists as a result. Mr. Jabr said that police commandos would continue with their lightning operations during the weekend.

The stepped up counter-insurgency measures come amid unconfirmed, but persistent, reports that Jordanian-born militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has been wounded, perhaps critically. Interior Minister Jabr also said Zarqawi had been wounded, but did not disclose the source of this information.

A website issuing statements for the al-Qaida Organization for Holy War in Iraq called for Muslims two-days ago to pray for the recovery of its injured leader, dubbed by U.S. officials as Iraq's most wanted terrorist.

U.S. forces have launched a series of large-scale raids and offensives in western Iraq during the past three weeks in an effort to uproot Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's followers from towns near the Syrian border, the alleged route of entry for foreign fighters associated with suicide car bombings. U.S. declarations of military successes and increasing political pressure on Syria have not put a stop to the bombings.

Security forces will set up 675 checkpoints, supplemented by additional roving checkpoints, to control the flow of traffic internally.

Despite varying competence on day to day operations, Iraq's new security forces proved themselves capable of large-scale coordination in their defense of polling stations for January 30 elections.

Mr. Duleimi said the clean out of Baghdad would be followed by similar operations in other cities within two weeks.

According to U.S. military commanders, Iraq's rapidly expanding security forces can now muster about 155,000 troops, more than the total of U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has urged the U.S. government to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi forces so that foreign troops can leave Iraq sooner.

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