Operation Swarmer angers Sunni Arabs
The three-day-old sweep through villages 60 miles north of Baghdad stirred growing unease among leading Sunnis and Associated Press reporters. One called it a needless "escalation" at a time of difficult negotiations over forming a broad-based government representing all of Iraq's communities. In the counterinsurgency sweep, through a 100-square-mile area of semidesert northeast of the Tigris River town of Samarra, Iraqi soldiers and units of the 101st Airborne Division had detained about 80 suspected insurgents as of Saturday, said Lt. Col. Edward S. Loomis, a U.S. spokesman. Seventeen were released after questioning, he said. Among those detained were six people, not further identified, allegedly responsible for the March 11 killing of Amjad Hameed, a journalist for the Iraqi television network al-Iraqiya, and his driver, the interim Iraqi government said.

The security net thrown down by Swarmer, described as the largest Iraq operation by helicopter-borne troops in three years, has angered residents of the area, which was a political stronghold of the Sunni-dominated government of Saddam Hussein ousted by the 2003 invasion. One leading Sunni Arab, Iraqi presidential security adviser Wafiq al-Samaraei, urged that the operation ease restrictions on traffic across Samarra's vital Tigris River bridge, and cease "disarming the people of Samarra of their own authorized weapons." He said the arms were needed to confront the "Zarqawi terrorists."

Many Sunni spokesmen differentiate between what they see as an Iraqi nationalist resistance against the U.S. occupation and Islamic fundamentalist terrorists in Iraq, many foreign, led by people like Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian allied with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida. "Many young people were detained, some of them innocent, and I call for their quick release," al-Samaraie told a TV interviewer. But he also called on Samarra's youths "to lay down their arms and join the political process." A Sunni leader in Parliament, Tarek al-Hashimi, told reporters the operation has come at too delicate a moment in Iraq. "There was no need to escalate military acts as the country is passing through a dangerous political dilemma," he said Friday.

In other action, Iraqi counterinsurgency troops staged a pre-dawn raid near Baqouba, 27 miles north of Baghdad, touching off a clash in which two gunmen were killed, one was wounded and 18 were arrested, including a Jordanian, Brig. Saman al-Talabani said. Along with ammunition and arms, the soldiers seized computer discs of fatwas — edicts — issued by Islamic clerics to kill Iraqi police and soldiers, al-Talabani said. A Sunni extremist leader was captured south of Baghdad along with five other "dangerous terrorists" and confessed to killing hundreds of Shiite Muslims in recent months, police Lt. Col. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. He identified the alleged ringleader as Mohammed al-Janabi.
Posted by: Seafarious 2006-03-19