Hopefully this kind of news will continue:
U.S. and Iraqi forces continued targeting Sunni insurgents in the city of Baqubah north of Baghdad on Wednesday, the second day of a major new offensive aimed at stamping out the Sunni extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
About 10,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are participating in the new offensive, called Arrowhead Ripper, which began early Tuesday in Diyala province, a mixed Sunni-Shiite-Kurdish province north and east of Baghdad that, in recent months, has become a stronghold of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the most violent area in the country outside of the capital. Forty-one insurgents and one American soldier were killed in two days of fighting, the U.S. military said Wednesday.
“We have found three warehouses and factories where car bombs cars were built, as well as large stashes of TNT and mortar rounds used to make” roadside bombs, said Mohammed al-Askari, an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman. “We also found the swords that they used to slaughter people in their so-called courts, in addition to sniper rifles and silencers.”
The U.S. military said in a statement that five weapons caches had been found and that 25 roadside bombs and five booby-trapped houses had been discovered and destroyed.
Askari said that the offensive “has developed greatly” and that U.S.-led forces were starting a “second phase by surrounding and isolating the areas in which the terrorists are located.”
The U.S. military has been sharply criticized — particularly from within its own ranks — for earlier offensives against al-Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents that allowed them to slip away and regroup in other areas. As soon as U.S. forces withdrew, the insurgents typically returned.
This time, military planners are trying to avoid that outcome by drawing a tight ring around Baqubah that locks insurgents inside, where they can be captured or killed. The challenge was illustrated Tuesday by the capture of six uninjured men who were trying to escape from Baqubah in an Iraqi ambulance, the U.S. military said in a statement.
Commanders “said we need to cordon off the city and control access in and out, which is what we did yesterday morning, and now we are very deliberately doing house-to-house clearing,” said Capt. Jon Korneliussen, a U.S. military spokesman. “Many houses were wired with explosives.”
Update: Here’s Michael Yon on Operation Arrowhead Ripper and a NYT reporter to look out for (in a good way).