Iraqi security forces launched a high-profile crackdown targeting terrorists in Baghdad today as insurgents hit back with suicide bombings and ambushes that killed at least 17 people.
Earlier, a British soldier was killed in a roadside bomb blast in southern Iraq, while a US Marine died in a bomb attack northwest of Baghdad.
The latest bomb attacks came as the military announced the end of a massive four-day offensive in western Iraq.
Operation Lightning was launched as a direct challenge to the bloody wave of militant attacks that have killed more than 700 people since the April 28 announcement of Iraq’s new Shiite-led government.
But despite the heavier-than-normal Iraqi police and army presence throughout the capital and on its southern and northern outskirts, insurgents kept up their steady pace of violence.
A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb outside the heavily fortified Iraqi Oil Ministry earlier today killing two security guards, said ministry spokesman Assem Jihad.
The blast happened when the militant tried to ram a Volkswagen sedan packed with explosives through the gate of the ministry building, located in eastern Baghdad, Jihad said.
Guards fired on the vehicle which exploded about 20 yards from the gate.
Before dawn, insurgents attacked an Iraqi army checkpoint in Youssifiyah, 12 miles south of Baghdad, killing nine soldiers and injuring one, said Dr Dawood Al Taaei of nearby Mahmoudiya hospital.
Gunmen also killed two police sergeants employed by the Iraqi Cabinet in a drive-by shooting in Dora, said police Captain Firas Qaiti.
Another two police commandos were killed and five injured in a car bomb blast at Madain about 14 miles southeast of Baghdad, said police Colonel Selam Mehmood.
A suicide car bomber, apparently targeting a US convoy, exploded his vehicle and killed two Iraqis and injured nine others in northern Iraq, said police Brigadier Sarhat Qadir.
The attack happened near the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Tuz Khormato, south of Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, said Qadir.
“With the escalating operations by security forces, we expect such reactions coming to the surface, but this will have no affect on the operations,” Laith Kuba, spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, said during a press conference.
The first of more than 40,000 soldiers and police were deployed to Baghdad’s streets early today, erecting scores of checkpoints on the southern and northern outskirts of the city in the largest Iraqi-led offensive launched since Saddam Hussein’s ouster two years ago.
Iraqi security forces searched hundreds of vehicles and raided several houses, described as “terrorist dens” in Dora, arresting several suspects, said army Capt Ihssan Abdel-Hamza.
“We set up these checkpoints in order to arrest all those insurgents trying to destroy this country and we will hit them with an iron fist,” said Iraqi army Sgt Ali al-Khazali while manning a highway checkpoint in southern Baghdad’s Dora neighbourhood.
Iraqi security forces, who are being supported by US forces, will erect 675 checkpoints along with mobile checkpoints to try to deter assailants around the city and in areas where attacks are frequent, and begin street-to-street sweeps.
Baghdad will be divided into two sectors, Karkh on the west bank of the Tigris river that separates the city, and Risafa on the east. Karkh would be divided into 15 sub-districts and Risafa into seven sub-districts. Police and emergency personnel will operate in Baghdad 24 hours a day.
Separately, the US military announced the end of Operation New Market, a four-day offensive centred on the western Iraqi town of Haditha aimed at disrupting insurgent activities.
The operation, which ended at noon, resulted in the killings of at least 14 insurgents, while more than 30 people were detained. Two US Marines have been reported killed during the operation.