Some 5,000 U.S. Marines, British troops and Iraqi commandos launched raids and arrested suspected insurgents Tuesday in a new offensive aimed at clearing a swath of insurgent hotbeds south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
The new offensive was the third large-scale military assault this month aimed at suppressing Iraq's persistent insurgency ahead of crucial elections set for Jan. 30.
The region of dusty, small towns south of the capital has become known as the "triangle of death" for the frequent attacks by car bombs, rockets, and small arms on U.S. and Iraqi forces there and for frequent ambushes on travellers.
The military said violence has surged in the area in recent weeks in an apparent attempt to divert attention away from the U.S. assault on Fallujah.
The joint operation kicked off with early morning raids in the town of Jabella, 50 miles south of Baghdad, netting 32 suspected insurgents, the U.S. military said in a statement. U.S. and Iraqi forces were conducting house-to-house searches and vehicle checkpoints.
In the past three weeks, Iraqi troops and Marines have detained nearly 250 insurgents, the statement said.
They have been aided by British forces from the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch Regiment, who were brought to the area from southern Basra to aid U.S. forces in closing off militant escape routes between Baghdad, Babil province to the south and Anbar province to the west.