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US Military Continues Push to Quash al-Qaida in Iraq

By Deborah Block
Iskandariyah, Iraq
30 December 2007

U.S. military efforts to quash the al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist network are showing signs of success in some areas. But, the U.S. military says al-Qaida remains a top concern. In an area south of Baghdad once known as the "Triangle of Death," U.S. forces have bolstered their troop presence to rout al-Qaida. VOA's Deborah Block went with the U.S. Army's 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry on a mission to find suspected al-Qaida members in an isolated village south of Baghdad.

It was almost daybreak when Black Hawk helicopters dropped off 80 soldiers and several Iraqi police in a farming village near the town of Iskandariyah.

U.S. military officials say they could not enter the village by road because the main roads were blown up by al-Qaida and subsequently flooded.

U.S. soldiers, accompanied by Iraqi police, begin canvassing homes, taking residents by surprise. A soldier instructs the others to begin checking houses in the village for suspected militants.

"I'm going to need you guys to clear at least the first buildings, one, two and three," he said.

In each house, men are separated from women and children.

This was the first time in a year that U.S. troops had entered the village, where, they say, al-Qaida has been able to gain a foothold. The purpose of their mission was to rout out suspected al-Qaida members and win the trust of village leaders.

The leader of the U.S. mission, Captain Michael Penney, questions a man.

PENNEY: "When was the last time al-Qaida was here?"

Captain Penney explains that the military has received information that this man may have links to al-Qaida.

"Intelligence from people who live here, or know people who live here, and some people who have been attacked [by al-Qaida]," said Captain Penney.

The man denies any link to al-Qaida, but is taken into custody.

At one house, a woman cries out that her son was kidnapped by al-Qaida, and she begs the soldiers for help.

The U.S. military push in this village comes about a month after a local sheikh told Iraqi police that suspected al-Qaida militants had raided the village in November, stealing money and weapons. The sheikh said three villagers were killed and five kidnapped. Those five are still missing.

During the mission, a total of four suspected al-Qaida militants are taken into custody.

One of the handcuffed men is accused of killing the three villagers during the November raid.

In this area, once known as the "Triangle of Death," U.S. military officials say, local sheikhs and former members of the Iraqi military who have had enough of al-Qaida have begun cooperating with U.S. forces.

On this day, village leaders speak with some of the soldiers in a Muslim prayer room about ways to stop intimidation by al-Qaida.

Lieutenant William Kuebler says the soldiers told the villagers that the U.S. military will take measures to help secure the area.

"Trying to explain what we plan to do in the future - fix roads, so we can have more of a presence out here," said Lieutenant Kuebler.

There is no health clinic in the village, and Army medic Specialist Martin Reynolds helps an Iraqi villager who was recently wounded.

"He was injured in a gunfight with al-Qaida," said Reynolds. "He had been shot through both legs. His wounds had become infected, so we cleaned them up, gave him some more different types of bandages, so he could keep his wounds clean and the infection under control."

Captain Penney says there are plans to go back to the village soon to continue searches for al-Qaida militants and to begin development projects U.S. military officials say those projects can help solidify support and cooperation from the local population.

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