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US Troops in Baghdad Launch Massive Anti-Insurgency Operation - 2004-03-17

U.S. troops and Iraqi special forces have launched a massive operation in Baghdad to seize illegal weapons and crush insurgents who are targeting coalition forces and civilians working on the country's reconstruction.

Hundreds of troops backed by helicopters and armored vehicles are fanning out across several Baghdad neighborhoods in pursuit of anti-coalition insurgents. The first target was a suspected illegal weapons market in central Baghdad.

The operation is called Iron Promise. A military spokesman in Baghdad says it will involve thousands of coalition soldiers and units of Iraq's Civil Defense Corps. He says the operation aims at destroying cells of anti-coalition insurgents and extremists in areas of the capital known as guerrilla strongholds.

Previous military operations have concentrated on disrupting networks organized by Saddam Hussein loyalists.

Coalition officials have also blamed foreign terrorists for recent attacks, including suicide bombings at Shiite holy shrines in Baghdad and Karbala that killed more than 170 people

The crackdown comes after a series of deadly attacks against U.S. and European civilians working in Iraq. At least six American civilians, including four missionaries, were gunned down earlier this week. Two European contractors involved with a water project were also killed. In addition, the insurgents are targeting Iraqis who work for foreigners.

Since the end of the war last year, insurgents have mostly targeted coalition troops, using mortars and bombs. Iraqi policemen and politicians have also been attacked. And there was a major attack on the United Nations compound last year, which killed many foreign and Iraqi U.N. staff members.

In recent weeks, the focus appears to have shifted again to what the military calls softer targets - the foreign civilians and their Iraqi employees.

A security official in Amman who is closely monitoring the situation in Iraq expects the insurgents will step up their campaign against anyone associated with building a new Iraqm especially ahead of the June 30 hand-over of power to a transitional Iraqi government.