US troops launch new offensive in Iraq

US troops launched a new offensive against insurgents south of Baghdad today, aiming to cut off another staging ground for attacks on the Iraqi capital, according to the military.

US troops launched a new offensive against insurgents south of Baghdad today, aiming to cut off another staging ground for attacks on the Iraqi capital, according to the military.

The new sweep, codenamed Marne Avalanche, is the latest around Baghdad as part of the "surge" of 28,000 new American troops sent to Iraq this year.

For the past month, US and Iraqi forces have been waging offensives in the region south-east of Baghdad and in the city of Baqouba, 35 miles to the north-east.

At the same time, the US military has been carrying out a stepped-up security sweep in Baghdad, hoping to bring calm to the capital and boost the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.

The military said in a statement that the new sweep "aimed at preventing the movement of weapons, munitions and insurgents into Baghdad".

It did not give an exact location of the offensive, but in recent days US commanders have said they plan new operations to cut off an insurgent supply route south-west of the city, running from western Anbar province.

A string of attacks hit Baghdad this morning. In the deadliest, a roadside bomb exploded as an Iraqi army patrol passed in the Boub al-Sham area on the city's north-east outskirts, killing five soldiers and wounding nine others, an army officer said.

For the second day in a row, a car bomb hit the central district of Karradah. The blast went off near Masbah Square, killing one person, wounding three others and leaving nearby shops burned, a police official said. Yesterday, a car bomb went off about half a mile away, killing 10 people.

Also, mortar shells hit a residential area in Abu Dhsir, a south Baghdad Shiite enclave surrounded by Sunni neighbourhood. The attack killed three civilians and wounded six others, said another police official.

Yesterday, 22 bullet-riddled bodies were found dumped in various locations of Baghdad, apparently the latest victims of sectarian violence, police said.

Meanwhile, with parliament scheduled to convene today, Iraqi politicians were trying to end a pair of boycotts of the legislature that are holding up work on crucial reforms sought by Washington.

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