Marines and Iraqis start new offensive around Haditha

NY Times:

About 1,000 marines and sailors are conducting an anti-insurgent offensive in and around the city of Haditha, the second major operation in the restive Anbar Province in western Iraq in less than three weeks, the marines said in a statement today.

The city was encircled before dawn today, according to an embedded reporter with The Associated Press. Helicopters dropped off troops who blocked off one side of the city, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad, while others set up checkpoints and moved toward the center, the news agency said.

The stepped-up activity around the city, where marines have been operating for the past three months, follows a similar drive in the region bordering Syria that lasted from May 7 to 14 and killed an estimated 125 insurgents.

It also follows what American military officials said was the largest Iraqi-led operation to date as hundreds of Iraqi soldiers fanned out Sunday and Monday in a dangerous western suburb of Baghdad, arresting 437 people they accuse of having ties to the insurgency.

In today's statement, the marines said that insurgent activity had recently increased in the area, where a suicide car bomber severely damaged about 60 percent of the Haditha hospital on May 7 and then attacked the Marines, using patients as human shields.

Three marines and a sailor died from wounds sustained in the blast and small-arms fire, the statement from the Second Marine Division said.

During the marines' presence over the past three months, a number of roadside bombs have been discovered near Haditha and many indirect fire attacks have been made against coalition forces, the statement said. The operation announced today includes Iraqi forces, the marines added.

The attack on the hospital and the use of patients as human shields by the insurgents is a war crime, but the NY Times does not mention that fact.


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