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Iraq: New push against insurgents

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Samarra recoveing from operation against insurgents.

L. Paul Bremer criticizes U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

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(CNN) -- U.S.-led forces have started a push against insurgents in another Iraqi hot spot -- the northern part of Babil province -- a couple of days after control was established in the restive city of Samarra.

The U.S. military said more than 3,000 multinational and Iraqi forces began a major operation on Tuesday against insurgents in the central Iraqi province.

"From their forward operating bases throughout the zone, Iraqi and multinational forces, led by the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), punched west across the Euphrates River in search of anti-Iraqi forces and those who aid them," said a U.S. military release.

The forces took an insurgent training camp, arrested 30 people and seized the Jurf Kas Sukr Bridge -- a key bridge over the Euphrates River.

"The bridge, spanning the Euphrates southwest of Baghdad, is believed to be a favored corridor for insurgents moving into and out of key cities, including the capital hub and the current (insurgent) sanctuary of Falluja," said the U.S. military.

The famed Babylonian ruins are in the province of Babil.

The operation includes "elements from Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines -- the MEU's ground combat element, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, the Army's 1-23 Stryker Battalion, Iraq's 2nd Ministry of the Interior Commando Battalion and the 507th Iraqi National Guard Battalion."

Other operations and attacks

Multinational forces said they struck a safe house in southwest Falluja Wednesday morning after reports confirmed that leaders of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror network were meeting there. No casualties were reported in the air strike.

The house was being used by the group to plan attacks against Iraqi civilians, security forces and multinational forces, a statement from the Combined Press Information Center said.

Falluja is a stronghold for insurgents.

"Removing these criminals from Iraq and active service to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi diminishes the capabilities of the terrorist network to conduct attacks, and strengthens the safety and security of the sovereign country of Iraq," according to the center.

Al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian-born Islamic militant whose Unification and Jihad group has claimed responsibility for several kidnappings of foreigners.

In the Sunni Triangle city of Samarra the major battle is over, a U.S. officer said.

U.S. and Iraqi forces have re-established control in the city but continue their operations against insurgents, said Col. Randy Dragon, in an interview with CNN. U.S. forces also are helping develop the city's police force, he said.

In Mosul, about 350 miles (563 km) northwest of Baghdad, a car bomb exploded on Tuesday as a military convoy passed, killing three Iraqi civilians and wounding four U.S. soldiers.

In the south-central city of Najaf on Tuesday, U.S. Marines handed out more than $200,300 in "condolence and collateral damage repair payments."

The money went to Iraqis who suffered injuries or lost a family member during the August fighting in the city between U.S. and Iraqi forces and the militia of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Cooperation with police in Sadr City

In a number of public appearances, Iraq's interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi repeated the government's resolve to enforce security for elections scheduled in January.

He said there must be a suitable atmosphere for the staging of the elections and said the government is establishing new plans to achieve security.

He was speaking to the 100-person interim National Council, an advisory body to the interim government, and also spoke to reporters after he met with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who visited northern Iraq and Baghdad.

In another restive area -- the poor Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City -- religious and tribal officials have "announced an initiative to help police conduct patrols in the area and collect illegal weapons," Allawi said.

"This is very heartening and we welcome it," he said. "This will certainly help restore the situation back to normal there and help the government mobilize funds for reconstruction that will create much-needed jobs.

"This shows that the government is flexible and willing to cooperate with law-abiding people.

"We hope that the few trouble spots would regain their calm and they are a few now after the Samarra operation."

Critical numbers

Meanwhile in West Virginia, the former U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq said the United States "never had enough troops on the ground."

L. Paul Bremer, who headed U.S. postwar efforts to stabilize Iraq until June 28, said Monday that toppling Saddam Hussein was the right decision, but he said inadequate military staffing stoked instability in the country and allowed rampant looting.

"We paid a big price for not stopping it because it established an atmosphere of lawlessness," Bremer said. (Full story)

Other developments

  • U.S. officials said Tuesday that a CIA report on the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to be made public Wednesday cites "new evidence" that in recent years Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency used clandestine laboratories to manufacture a small quantity of biological weapons. But, the officials said, they were probably for use in assassinations and not for mass casualty attacks.
  • A U.S. soldier and seven Iraqi civilians were wounded Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded as a U.S. military convoy traveled through Ramadi, the U.S. military said.
  • At least 10 people were wounded when a rocket struck a residential compound near the Diyala governorate's police headquarters in Baquba, authorities and eyewitnesses said.
  • A Libyan charity association has joined the effort to secure the release of British hostage Ken Bigley from his Iraqi captors, a spokesman for the organization said Tuesday. The spokesman said that Bigley's brother, Paul Bigley, spoke with Moammar Gadhafi, and the Libyan leader promptly called on the Gadhafi International Foundation for Charity Associations to "do whatever we can to save the life of Mr. Bigley and get his immediate release." (Full story)
  • CNN's Jane Arraf, Ayman Mohyeldin, Kianne Sadeq, Ingrid Formanek, Nermeen al Mufti, Bassem Muhy and Thaira Al Hilli contributed to this report.

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