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Hundreds of Marines go after insurgents

Nearly 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops attack areas of western Iraq where 22 Marines died this week.

By Associated Press
Published August 6, 2005

BAGHDAD - U.S. Marines and Iraqi troops pounded insurgents with bombs and tank cannons Friday during a major offensive along a stretch of the Euphrates River valley where 22 Marines were killed this week.

About 800 U.S. Marines and 180 Iraqi soldiers moved into Haqlaniyah, one of a cluster of western towns in Anbar province around the Haditha Dam that is believed to be a stronghold of Iraqi insurgents and foreign fighters.

Heavy Abrams tanks battled insurgents armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, while U.S. jets destroyed at least four buildings - two of which were found booby-trapped with explosives, a U.S. military statement said. "The wires were connected to numerous 155-mm artillery rounds scattered throughout both buildings," the military said.

Operation Quick Strike is the third major campaign since May aimed at rooting out insurgents and foreign fighters in the Euphrates valley, which is believed to be a major infiltration route for extremists entering Iraq from Syria.

On Wednesday, 14 Marines and a civilian translator were killed near Haditha when a huge roadside bomb wrecked their lightly armored vehicle. Two days earlier, six Marines died in a firefight with insurgents. The Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sunnah claimed its men staged both attacks. Two other Marines have died in Anbar this week - one from a car bomb, the other from small arms fire.

Residents said U.S. and Iraqi troops had cordoned off Haqlaniyah, about 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, and were searching house to house. American warplanes prowled overhead and a number of heavy explosions were heard. Witnesses said 500-pound bombs were being dropped in the area.

The U.S. military has defended its operations in western Iraq, insisting it is reducing insurgent attacks despite the nearly two dozen Marine deaths this week.

In the holy city of Najaf, meanwhile, the country's most revered Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, made explicit recommendations for the first time on the writing of a new constitution for Iraq, just 10 days before the interim National Assembly is supposed to approve a draft.

Al-Sistani wants Islam to be "the main source" of legislation, supports autonomy for the nation's regions and backs an electoral system that would give Sunni Arabs more representation in the new Parliament, said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who met with the ayatollah for several hours.

Some of those positions are strongly opposed by political groups, and al-Sistani's words may set the stage for a showdown between Shiite leaders and others over the constitution.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

[Last modified August 6, 2005, 01:43:02]

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