U.S. Bombs Baghdad

The US military said that its planes rained bombs on Al-Qaeda targets Thursday as the American military pursued militants across Iraq a year after President George W. Bush decided to send reinforcements to the country.

A 10-minute blitz saw 40,000 pounds (18,000 kilograms) of explosives unleashed on 40 targets in Arab Jabour village on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, a military statement said.

The attack by B-1 bombers and F-16 fighters was part of a nationwide operation, codenamed Phantom Phoenix, launched by US and Iraqi forces on Tuesday, the statement said.

"Thirty-eight bombs were dropped within the first 10 minutes, with a total tonnage of 40,000 pounds," it said.

"More than 40 targets were hit after precision air strikes destroyed reported Al-Qaeda safehavens in Arab Jabour."

The statement gave no details of casualties.

Nine US soldiers were killed in the first two days of Phantom Phoenix, including six who died in an explosion as they entered a booby-trapped house in restive Diyala province on Wednesday.

The operation is countrywide but focused in particular on four provinces north of Baghdad -- Diyala, Salaheddin, Tamim and Nineveh.

US commanders say that Al-Qaeda and other insurgents have been largely pushed out of Baghdad and surrounding belts, mainly due to a "surge" of an extra 28,500 troops announced by Bush on January 10 last year, and the fight must now be taken further afield.

The focus of an operation codenamed Iron Harvest, part of Phantom Phoenix, in Diyala province just north of Baghdad, one of the most dangerous regions in the country, are the "breadbasket" farmlands surrounding the town of Muqdadiyah.

Major General Mark Hertling, commanding general of coalition forces in northern Iraq, said on Wednesday "20 to 30" Al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters had been killed in Diyala in the first two days of Iron Harvest.

"It's about right (20-30 killed), but I don't want to put a body count on it," the general said in response to questions at a news conference in Baghdad.

He acknowledged that the militants were likely simply to move their operations elsewhere due to the latest assault but said eventually they would be pinned down.

"Yeah, it's true that they moved from Anbar (province) into my region," he told the news conference. "But we're pursuing them. With the increase of the Iraqi army and police, there's no place left for them, except maybe some palm groves."

US-backed "Awakening" paramilitaries who are paid 10 dollars a day by the American military, patrol the streets and man checkpoints in some neighbourhoods.


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