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Iraqi, US Forces Step Up Baghdad Security Crackdown

15 February 2007

Iraqi and U.S. forces are stepping up joint operations in Baghdad as part of a new security crackdown on sectarian and insurgent violence in the city.

A U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Scott R. Bleichwehl says Operation Law and Order targeted multiple locations across Baghdad Thursday with searches and clearing operations.

Troops also set up new checkpoints and searched vehicles.

Meanwhile, a U.S. military official, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver, told Reuters news agency the plan to close Iraq's borders with Syria and Iran went into effect late Wednesday.

Iraq said it would close those borders for 72 hours as part of the crackdown.

In southern Iraq, British troops sealed off the city of Basra Thursday in a parallel security crackdown aimed at stopping militia activity and weapons from arriving by sea.

Separately, an advisor to Iraq's prime minister has confirmed the U.S. assertion that radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is in Iran.

Sami al-Askari said the Shi'ite leader had traveled to Iran for a short visit. But he denied the characterization that Sadr fled Iraq.

In another development, the U.S. military says Iraqi special forces backed by American military advisors have killed one and arrested several other members of a "rogue" cell of the Shi'ite Mahdi Army, loyal to Sadr.

Thursday's operation took place in al-Mashru, south of Baghdad. The military says the rogue group has been involved in sectarian kidnappings and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces.

The U.S. military also says seven U.S. troops have been killed in a series of incidents since Tuesday.

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

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