US and Iraqi forces killed 85 militants at a suspected training camp along the marshy shores of a remote lake, one of the highest guerrilla death tolls of the two-year insurgency, officials said.
They said citizens emboldened by the January elections were increasingly turning in intelligence tips.
Insurgents kept up their relentless campaign against Iraq’s security forces today, with gunmen opening fire on a two-ton army truck transporting soldiers in an eastern Baghdad neighbourhood.
The truck overturned, causing 12 injuries among the troops, said police Maj. Mousa Hussein.
Tuesday’s raid at Lake Tharthar in central Iraq turned up booby-trapped cars, suicide-bomber vests, weapons and training documents, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Rashid Feleih told state television yesterday.
He said the insurgents included Iraqis, Filipinos, Algerians, Moroccans, Afghans and Arabs from neighbouring countries.
“What’s really remarkable is that the citizens this time really took the initiative to provide us with very good information,” Feleih said yesterday.
In three days, according to Iraqi and US officials’ accounts, troops have killed at least 128 insurgents nationwide, culminating in the announcement of Tuesday’s attack by Iraqi commandos, backed by US air and ground fire.
On Sunday, US soldiers killed 26 insurgents south of Baghdad, while a fight during an ambush on an Iraqi security envoy killed 17 militants on Monday.
“This string of successes does have positive repercussions in that it may convince Iraqis not supporting the insurgents – but not supporting the US either - to perceive that the tide is turning and not go with the insurgents,” said Nora Bensahel, a Washington-based Iraq analyst for Rand Corp.
But while it’s been “a fairly successful few days,” Bensahel cautioned that “there’s a long, long way to go”.
The US military gave the first report of the Lake Tharthar raid, saying that seven commandos and an unspecified number of militants were killed. The military declined Wednesday to confirm the Iraqi government’s death toll of 85 militants, and it was impossible to check the figure independently.
But 85 deaths would make the raid the heaviest hit militants have taken since the opening days of the US-led attack in November on the city of Fallujah, where more than 1,000 insurgents died.
US Army Maj. Richard Goldenberg, a 42nd Infantry Division spokesman, said an estimated 80 to 100 insurgents were at the camp, 60 miles north of Ramadi, and that some insurgents fled with casualties before the area could be surrounded.
Iraqi commandos were in the area to conduct a different raid, but tips from residents redirected them to the lakeside camp, Goldenberg said. An Iraqi officer said residents had been providing intelligence for 18 days before the attack.