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Samarra battle part of effort to take back Iraqi cities

From CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

U.S. troops secure a street crossing in a Samarra market Friday.
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U.S., Iraqi forces strike insurgents in Samarra, Iraq.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Friday's battle for the Iraqi city of Samarra is the opening salvo in what will be a campaign over the next several months to "take back" more than a dozen Iraq cities where insurgents hold sway, in time for the country's January elections, according to Pentagon sources.

More than 2,000 Iraqi troops took part in the surprise offensive, with 3,000 soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division providing firepower and expertise.

While military sources had hinted the first offensive was likely a month away, the sources said Samarra offered an opportunity for a quick, early success.

Pentagon officials believed there was strong local support for kicking out the militants, who were seen by many Samarra citizens as holding the city hostage.

The Pentagon hopes success in Samara will boost the morale of Iraqi forces and build confidence in the overall strategy to retake other strongholds by the end of the year.

The new strategy calls for waiting until enough Iraqi forces are trained and equipped before taking on insurgents in the areas where they are strongest. The thorniest of those strongholds is Falluja, which is expected to be tackled last.

In the meanwhile, U.S. forces continue to rely on airstrikes in Falluja to target the network of suspected terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Al Zarqawi.

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