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Coalition Tries to Prevent Surge of Violence During Key Time in Iraq

The Pentagon says a new U.S.-led offensive in Iraq, announced Monday, is aimed at preventing al-Qaida and Shi'ite groups from conducting major attacks before the mid-September release of a key report from the top American officials in Baghdad. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Spokesman Bryan Whitman says Operation Phantom Strike is designed to take the offensive away from al-Qaida in Iraq and other groups, which were expected to try to launch a series of attacks in an effort to affect the coming report, and the congressional debate that will follow.

"The enemies of Iraq are also aware of the fact that we are going to be making some assessments in September, and will try to use this period of time also to try to make some gains. And these offensive operations are designed to blunt any attempts on their part," said Whitman.

Whitman says Phantom Strike will include a series of what he calls "very aggressive offensive operations" in various parts of the country during the next 30 days.

"This increased intensity in offensive operations, with the full effect of the surge forces that we have there, will take the fight to the enemy with the purpose of improving the overall security situation in Baghdad, but [also] to keep pressure on AQI [al-Qaida in Iraq] countrywide and prevent the enemy from conducting their own operations," he added.

Whitman says the effort will be mainly focused on al-Qaida, but may also include operations against Shiite militias.

On Tuesday, the multi-national command in northern Iraq announced one such regional operation, called Lightening Hammer, involving 16,000 Iraqi and foreign troops in the Diyala River Valley. A news release quotes the U.S. commander in the region as saying earlier offensives forced al-Qaida leaders into hiding in the countryside, and this effort is aimed at rooting them out.

Officials have warned that the period leading up to the September report could be particularly bloody, as insurgents try to prevent the top U.S. commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador from reporting significant security progress. Many members of Congress are looking to the report for indications that initial security progress justifies continuing U.S. involvement in Iraq, despite of the country's political deadlock. Failing that, many members may call for the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal almost immediately.