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Iraq Transition

U.S.: 100 insurgents killed near Iraq-Syria border

Three Marines die as operation aims to stem smuggling route

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- American forces have killed at least 100 insurgents and foreign fighters in an offensive near Iraq's border with Syria, U.S. military officials said Monday.

The offensive, which began Saturday, involves more than 1,000 U.S. troops in an attempt to crack down on the network headed by terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the military said.

Three Marines from the 2nd Marine Division have died in the fighting, two on Sunday and one Monday, the military said.

Officials said much of the fighting has been in the Al Jazirah Desert north of Qaim, a city along the Euphrates River in Anbar province on the Syrian border.

The area has "basically [been] a sanctuary" for insurgents, said Col. Bob Chase, a Marine operations officer based at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi.

A military press release said the region was known as a smuggling route. Insurgents have been using "known points of entry and 'rat lines,' as we call them, to bring in weapons illegally," Chase said.

Based on their "equipment and dress," Chase said most of the insurgents are believed to be foreign fighters, not Iraqis.

The offensive involves forces from the U.S. Army, Navy and Marines, the military said. Aircraft include Marine Corps jets, Chase said.

Casualties have been "extremely light on the coalition side," Chase said, "and conversely there have been a lot of enemy casualties."

Many of the fighters "are starting to flee, and we are continuing to press the attack."

Chase said the operation began after Iraqis provided information on the whereabouts of the insurgents.

"The people are starting to be frustrated with these insurgents and with these foreign fighters," he told CNN.

"The offensive started based on some significant intelligence received from some very brave folks who live in that part of the country."

U.S. death toll passes 1,600

The number of U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war passed 1,600 on Sunday, according to military reports, when two soldiers were killed near Khaldiya and a third died in Samarra. All three were killed by roadside bombs, the U.S. military said.

The three Marines killed in the border offensive brought the number of American troops killed in the war to 1,604, according to U.S. military reports.

In all, 1,783 coalition forces -- not counting Iraqi forces -- have been killed. The U.S. death toll passed 1,000 in September 2004. (Full story)

According to news reports compiled by Pat Kniesler of the Web site, more than 2,000 Iraqi soldiers, police and guardsmen have been killed since U.S.-led troops began working with Iraqis to build a security force under the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003.

The number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war remains unknown. Data compiled by the Web site suggests that between 21,000 and 25,000 civilians have been confirmed killed.

Other developments

  • Insurgent bombings doubled in April following a lull in February, the U.S. military said Monday. About 300 people have been killed in bombings in the last 10 days. The military said it believes insurgents used the time following Iraq's general elections on January 30 to stockpile explosives.
  • In southern Baghdad, a suicide car bomb detonated Monday at a police checkpoint killing at least four people, including two police and two civilians, police said. The attack wounded six police and two civilians. Police said three people who were inside the suicide vehicle were killed.
  • The U.S. military said Sunday that an aide to al-Zarqawi had been captured by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad. U.S. forces identified him as Ammar al-Zubaydi, also known as Abu Abbas. Al-Zubaydi was captured Thursday, the military said. He was responsible for many recent suicide car bombings and an attack on Abu Ghraib prison in April that wounded U.S. troops and detainees at the facility, the military said. (Full story)
  • Information provided by al-Zarqawi associate Ghassan Muhammad Amin Husayn al-Rawi -- who was captured April 26 -- helped U.S. and Iraqi forces kill six insurgents Sunday and capture another 54 in western Iraq near the Syrian border, the U.S. military said.
  • Several employees of a London-based security company are missing after a convoy ambush in remote northwestern Iraq, a spokesman for the company said Monday. An insurgent group, Ansar al-Sunna, claimed on a Web site that it had attacked the convoy Sunday and abducted a Japanese employee of Hart Security, but the company spokesman could not confirm a kidnapping.
  • Iraq's Shiite Muslim and Kurd-dominated transitional National Assembly reached out to minority Sunni Arabs on Sunday, approving four more of their number to serve in the transitional government. The ministries of defense, industry and human rights are to be headed by Sunnis, and a newly named deputy prime minister is a Sunni.
  • A flap over some 10,000 bulletproof vests issued to Marines in the field has caused the Marine Corps to recall more than 5,000 of the vests -- while at the same time saying no recall was necessary. A report by the Marine Corps Times said ballistic experts urged the Corps to reject about 10,000 vests the Marines issued to troops because of life-threatening flaws found in routine testing. Marine officials denied the claim and pointed to a second round of tests that proved the vests hold up under fire. The vests were recalled only to ease the minds of Marines using them in the field, officials said.
  • CNN's Barbara Starr and Mike Mount contributed to this report.

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