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Families flee Tal Afar fighting


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- An estimated 6,600 families have fled the northern Iraq city of Tal Afar in recent months amid a rise in the insurgency there, a senior official with Iraq's Ministry of Displacement and Migration told CNN Monday.

An operation, called Operation Restore Rights, was launched in Tal Afar two weeks ago to try to drive out the insurgents.

"The rats know we are closing in on them," U.S. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said Sunday.

According to the Iraqi official, most of the displaced residents are living in the villages surrounding Tal Afar, although some have made it as far south as Karbala and Najaf.

The largest refugee camp, in the Al-Kal'aa area, is located about 3 miles (5 km) outside of the city and has 1,000 tents. It houses 600-700 families, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

There are another approximately 3,000 families living in various villages around Tal Afar -- with most families staying in deserted industrial buildings and schools, and a few in mosques.

There are a few families staying in a refugee camp close to the U.S. military base in the region.

A U.S. military spokeswoman in Baghdad said the camp was being secured by an emergency police battalion from Mosul and U.S. military civil affairs units.

There were about 70 families in Najaf and 130 in Karbala in southern Iraq, the Iraqi official said.

The official said nutritional aid and other supplies had reached most of the families and more was on its way to the more remote areas where families were scattered.

Iraqi Prime Minster Ibrahim Jafaari visited Iraqi troops in Tal Afar on Monday and toured the city.

The operation in the region has focused on the Serai neighborhood in southeast Tal Afar, where Lynch estimated 350 to 500 insurgents, many of them foreign fighters, had been cornered.

Lynch said at least 141 terrorists had been killed and 236 captured since the operation began on August 26.

Lynch said the operation was the result of four months work, including the establishment of "displacement camps" and humanitarian aid that allowed 12,000 residents to be evacuated from the neighborhood in advance of the fighting to minimize civilian casualties.

Tal Afar is 70 kilometers (40 miles) from the Syrian border and it is thought to be a hide-out and base for foreign fighters infiltrating the Iraqi-Syrian border. A part of the border was shut for security reasons on Sunday.

The Islamic Army in Iraq -- a terrorist group which has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks and kidnappings in Iraq -- on Sunday said it wanted to avenge the deaths of Sunnis in Iraq, including those killed in the ongoing Tal Afar operation.

Other developments

  • A Lebanese man -- accused by his captors of supplying alcohol to Iraq and to U.S. forces -- has been abducted, according to a video posted on the Internet by a previously unknown militant group. The video was posted Sunday by a group calling itself the the "Propagation of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice." On the tape, the man, identified by the Lebanese Foreign Ministry as Qurabet Shekerejian, pleads with his employers to stop doing business in Iraq or his captors will kill him.
  • Two diners died and 15 other people were wounded Monday night when a car bomb detonated outside a popular Baghdad restaurant, police said. The bomb was exploded remotely at 8:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. ET) Monday outside the al-Sa'a Restaurant in the west Baghdad neighborhood of al-Mansoor, police said.
  • A British soldier was killed and three others were wounded Sunday in what a British military spokesman in Basra called a "hostile incident."
  • Violence took place elsewhere on Sunday, with a U.S. soldier killed near Samarra in a roadside bombing and six people killed in separate incidents over the last 24 hours in Baghdad.
  • The man credited with coordinating insurgent operations in the city of Mosul was shot dead Saturday as multi-national forces raided a terrorist safe hour in a town near Mosul, according to a statement from the Coalition Press Information Center.
  • In Kirkuk, Task Force Liberty soldiers and Iraqi police "detained eight individuals suspected of making and emplacing improvised explosive devices," the U.S. military said.
  • CNN's Kevin Flower, Enes Dulami, Mike Mount, Kianne Sadeq and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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