The American military launched a major new offensive today, involving about 2,500 Marines, soldiers and sailors near the Syrian border, aimed at destroying an al-Qaida in Iraq network.
The “Operation Steel Curtain” offensive in the town of Husaybah in the western province of Anbar would remove militants and their “safe houses” from the area to improve security before Iraq’s parliamentary election on December 15, the US military said.
The offensive included an unspecified number of Iraqi forces.
Husaybah is near the border town of Qaim and about 200 miles west of Baghdad.
“Operation Steel Curtain marks the first large-scale employment of multiple battalion-sized units of Iraqi army forces in combined operations with coalition forces in the last year,” the military said in a statement.
The election, an important step in Iraq’s democratic reforms, and the training of new Iraqi forces, are aimed at one day allowing US forces to begin withdrawing from Iraq.
Operation Steel Curtain included scout platoons recruited from the Qaim region, the US command said.
It said al-Qaida in Iraq, the country’s most feared terror group, had used the Husaybah region’s porous borders to smuggle foreign fighters, money and equipment into the country to be used in its attacks against the Iraqi people and coalition forces.
The military also said that militants continued to threaten to kill residents of Husaybah who worked with US or Iraqi forces in the region as “collaborators”.
The offensive is part of a larger US military operation designed to deny al-Qaida in Iraq the ability to operate in the Euphrates River Valley, which stretches through Anbar province, and to establish a joint permanent security presence along the Syrian border.
Earlier, the terror group warned foreign diplomats to flee after announcing it would put to death two kidnapped Moroccan embassy employees.
The warning came in a statement posted on an Islamist website yesterday in the name of al-Qaida in Iraq, which also claimed responsibility for the July kidnap and killing of two envoys from Algeria and one from Egypt, as well as the abduction and beheading of many foreign hostages.
On Thursday, another internet statement attributed to al Qaida said the two Moroccans had been condemned to death. There was no indication last night that they had been killed.
“We are renewing our threat to those so-called diplomatic missions who have insisted on staying in Baghdad and have not yet realised the repercussions of such a challenge to the will of the mujahedeen,” yesterday’s statement said.
“Let them know that there is no difference in our judgment between the head of a diplomatic mission and the lowest-level employee.”