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Iraq: Domestic Security Forces Hunt Insurgents In Baghdad

By Valentinas Mite

An estimated 40,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers have launched a massive security sweep in the capital Baghdad. They are setting up checkpoints and searching homes in an effort to root out insurgents. Dubbed "Operation Lightning," the crackdown comes following a wave of insurgent attacks that have killed more than 720 people since Iraq's new Shi'ite-led government was announced on 28 April.

Prague, 30 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The biggest security operation since the fall of Saddam Hussein is under way in Iraq, but insurgents are hitting back.

One day after government forces launched their security operation in Baghdad, twin explosions killed at least 20 people and injured scores today in the Iraqi town of Hillah, south of the capital. Suicide bombers reportedly targeted a crowd of Iraqi policemen who were demanding higher wages.

"They [the police] were demonstrating when two suicide bombers blew themselves up amongst them," an unnamed witness to the bombings told Reuters just after the staggered attacks. "One blast, then another immediately afterward."

Yesterday insurgents targeted a police checkpoint near the Oil Ministry in Baghdad. In fighting throughout Iraq, 29 members of the country's security forces were reportedly killed.

However, Operation Lightning has reported numerous successes so far. Laith Kubba, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, announced that more than 500 arrests were made in the first day of the sweep. The U.S. military, meanwhile, said that a former general of Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen militia was among those arrested.

A computer technician who spoke with RFE/RL who identified himself as Heydar said he is tired of the bombings and absence of safety, and fully approves of the security operation. Heydar, a Shi'ite Muslim who works in the affluent Baghdad district of Mansur, said he saw many checkpoints on his way to work today.

"I think it's good, very good because there is a lot of policemen," Heydar said. "Troops -- Iraqi troops -- from the army, police. Very good."

Iraqi and U.S. officials reportedly plan to erect a ring of about 675 checkpoints along the capital's outskirts. Heydar said policemen and soldiers are searching every car and every person, which he said poses some problems for some.

"They [the security forces] are doing very well, but the problem is that when they search every person, every car, every one, they create big crowds. So, if anyone needs to go to a hospital or to his job, he spends more than two hours only being checked."

But Heydar said he is understanding of the temporary inconvenience, and expressed surprise at the thoroughness and professionalism of Iraq's fledgling security forces. Heydar said he doesn't think people taking part in the operation can be easily bribed because "there are too many of them for somebody to dare to take a bribe publicly."

Yahia Said, a researcher on Iraq and other transitional nations at the London School of Economics, recently returned from a trip to Iraq. He said that although from a military point of view the operation seems to be going reasonably well, it could fuel sectarian tensions.

"It seems that it [the operation] is deepening the ethnic tensions because it's being presented or interpreted as an attack orchestrated by the winning Shi'a parties against Sunni insurgents," Said said. "[However,] the government had to take action, and it's a very visible operation although it took them some time to get it off the ground."

Said said the biggest drawback is that Operation Lightning is being conducted with the assistance of coalition forces -- which in effect reinforces the perception by many Iraqis that the government security forces are allied with the occupiers.

Meanwhile, an Internet statement attributed to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, said yesterday that he is overseeing the insurgent's response to the security sweep. The web statement says squadrons and brigades directed by al-Zarqawi have launched an operation, which is a reply to the military crackdown in Baghdad. The statement follows recent reports that al-Zarqawi has been injured.

The U.S. military did not identify the man whom they cited as leading the insurgent cells in Baghdad.

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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