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UN Refugee Agency Seeks $261 Million for Iraqi Refugees

The U.N. refugee agency says it is seeking $261 million this year to help Iraqis driven from their homes by violence.

Tuesday's appeal by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees is for money to help more than two-million people who are internally displaced or who have fled to neighboring countries, primarily Syria and Jordan.

The UNHCR says it is providing health care and other support to the refugees, and that it hopes to have at least 100,000 Iraqi refugee children attending school this year. It said it could not confirm Iraqi government reports that 30,000 Iraqi refugees returned home in 2007.

In other news, the number two American commander in Iraq says U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched a major operation against al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremists.

Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno said Operation Phantom Phoenix is aimed at pursuing the extremists "wherever they attempt to take sanctuary."

General Odierno did not give the location of the operation but said U.S. and Iraqi security forces are determined not to allow militants to have respite.

The general also said Iraqis are continuing to join local citizen groups, provide tips on criminals, weapons and ammunition caches, and cooperate with the Iraqi government.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.