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U.S. targets Iraqi rebels in new offensive

By Associated Press
Published May 26, 2005

HADITHA, Iraq - More than 1,000 U.S. troops on Wednesday swept into this city on the road to Syria to root out insurgents - including those loyal to terrorist mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - after rebels damaged the hospital, knocked out the electricity and kept police out.

The American troops killed at least 10 suspected militants in Haditha, a Euphrates River city of 90,000 people 140 miles northwest of Baghdad in troubled Anbar province.

Marine Col. Stephen Davis, commander of the operation, told CNN that Zarqawi "clearly is an influence out here."

Wednesday's offensive, the second on a road to Damascus in less than a month, came as the Iraqi government demanded that Syria block insurgents from crossing the border. Iraq also asked the U.N. Security Council to renew its mandate for the 160,000 troops in the U.S.-led multinational force, saying it cannot defend itself alone.

The offensives are aimed at insurgents who have killed more than 620 people since a new government was announced April 28.

A small Iraqi reconnaissance unit took part in the attack, said Lt. Col. Lionel Urquhart, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment.

But Iraq's inability to fight the insurgency on its own was reflected in a letter that its foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, submitted to the United Nations.

"Despite continuing efforts to build up our security forces, these forces cannot as yet assume full responsibility for maintaining our national security and defending our borders," he wrote in the letter circulated in New York on Wednesday.

Haditha is a prime example. It has no functioning police force, and U.S. military officials said the American presence has been light.

Wednesday's assault, called Operation New Market, focused on this city where the U.S. military says insurgents have been using increasingly sophisticated tactics.

This month, militants launched a well-coordinated attack from a Haditha hospital, killing four U.S. troops in an ambush that included a suicide car bomber, a roadside bomb and gunfire. The hospital was badly damaged.

More Zarqawi rumors

BAGHDAD - Insurgents said Wednesday in interviews and Internet statements that the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was struggling with a gunshot wound to the lung, and one of his commanders said Zarqawi was receiving oxygen, heightening suspicion that groundwork was being laid for an announcement of Zarqawi's replacement or death.

Insurgents offered no proof for their second day of reports that Zarqawi had suffered a serious wound. The Jordanian-born guerrilla's fighters and one of his top lieutenants have said he was wounded in an ambush by U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces last weekend around the western city of Ramadi. A U.S. military official, Lt. Col. David Lapan, said Wednesday that he had found no record of such an ambush.

A leader in Zarqawi's organization, identifying himself by the battlefield name Abu Jalal Iraqi, said Wednesday that Zarqawi's health "wasn't easy."

"He is wounded in his right lung, in which the bullets crossed and remained in his back," Iraqi said. Zarqawi, who is about 39, "is being given respiration," the lieutenant said, without elaborating.

Information from the Washington Post was used in this report.

[Last modified May 26, 2005, 01:18:13]

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