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US, Iraqi forces launch major operation in Kirkuk

File photo: The city of Kirkuk has a Kurdish majority but sizable Arab and Turkmen communities and has been the scene of sometimes deadly ethnic strife since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) April 15, 2009
Iraqi army units backed by US air support launched a major operation Wednesday south of the disputed city of Kirkuk hours after a car bomb killed 10 police and wounded more than 20 others.

General Abdelamir al-Zaidi, the head of the Iraqi army's elite Force 12, said troops had killed two senior members of the militant Ansar al-Sunna group and wounded two others 55 kilometres (34 miles) south of the oil-rich city.

"The first operation was carried out with the US air force which killed one terrorist and wounded another while we also killed a terrorist and wounded another," he told AFP.

"We arrested the two (wounded men) and confirmed that the two who were killed were senior members of Ansar al-Sunna," he said, referring to an extreme Islamist group originally from Kurdistan that is allied with Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

He said the strikes were the opening volley of an operation expected to last until the end of the month that has already seen Iraqi forces arrest 12 suspected terrorists, including a senior militant from the city of Tikrit.

He said his forces had also discovered a weapons cache containing six roadside bombs, including a massive one weighing 400 kilograms (880 pounds).

Major General Torhan Yousuf of the Kirkuk police meanwhile said his forces had detained two alleged senior members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

"They have been charged with killing more than 30 members of the Iraqi security forces and carrying out scores of kidnappings and bombings," he said.

The arrests took place shortly before the bombing, which targeted a bus filled with members of a special Iraqi police unit charged with guarding oil infrastructure as it was returning from work.

The city of Kirkuk has a Kurdish majority but sizable Arab and Turkmen communities and has been the scene of sometimes deadly ethnic strife since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

The Kurds would like to add the oil-rich city to their autonomous region in northern Iraq and have long demanded a referendum be held on the city's future, an idea adamantly opposed by the city's other two ethnic communities.

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US troops may stay longer in Mosul: commander
Washington (AFP) April 14, 2009
US troops could stay in violence-wracked Mosul beyond a June 30 deadline for withdrawing from Iraqi cities if Baghdad asks them to, the commander of US forces in the northern province said Tuesday.

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