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Iraq launches operation against Al-Qaeda in Anbar desert - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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This undated image posted on a militant website purports to show militants in the al-Jazeera region on the Iraqi side of the Syria-Iraq border. (AP)

This undated image posted on a militant website purports to show militants in the Al-Jazeera region on the Iraqi side of the Syria–Iraq border. (AP)

Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—The Iraqi Army has begun a major military operation dubbed Al-Shabah (Ghost) against Al-Qaeda in the Al-Anbar desert, Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal.

The operation, which is being supported by the Iraqi Air Force, aims at hunting members of Al-Qaeda and securing the highway between Ramadi and Iraq’s borders with Syria and Jordan.

A statement issued by commander of the land forces, Lt. Gen. Ali Ghaidan, said: “We have launched a security operation to hunt Al-Qaeda members who carry out kidnappings and threaten security forces and civilians.”

He added that “the operation by Al-Anbar and Al-Jazeera Operations Commands and Federal Police covered Al-Anbar desert, Horan Valley, Al-Qa’im, Al-Ka’arah, Makr Al-Dheeb and Al-Jazeera, and was supported by the Air Force.”

The operation included the area where Al-Qaeda operatives killed 48 Syrian soldiers who had escaped into Iraq and who were being sent back to Syria through Al-Anbar by Iraqi authorities last March.

A senior official said 20,000 soldiers were taking part in the operation which started at dawn on Saturday.

Ghaidan said the operation had resulted in the destruction of one the largest Al-Qaeda bases, Sayf Al-Bahr, and the arrest of a number of the organization’s members.

He also said the main highway between Ramadi and Rutba was completely secured. That highway has witnessed a series of killings and kidnappings recently.

The operation started following the discovery of the bodies of five police officers who were kidnapped by armed men on the highway near the 160km area east of Ramadi, Al-Anbar’s main town, and who were taken to an unknown destination. The operation also aimed at finding other kidnap victims in that area, where insurgents were known to be active.

“The local government in Al-Anbar, as well as the army command, police, and other security departments, have formed a crisis cell to monitor events and secure the international highway which links Iraq on one side, and Syria and Jordan on the other, by carrying out a comprehensive operation, and targeting Al-Qaeda groups and armed insurgents, and searching for kidnap victims,” Al-Anbar Province council chief Jasim Al-Halbousi told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The mission is not easy, because even though traffic is running smoothly on this highway, the desert area is vast and needs constant monitoring, which has to be done, as the highway is more than 450km long in the desert,” he added.

On whether the operation would achieve its aims, Halbousi said, “Any target met (by the operation) is important because defeating terrorism in a secluded and vast area can only be done this way.”

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hayis, head of the Sons of Iraq constituent assembly that was established recently on the orders of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the military operation was carried out in coordination with our offices in Al-Qa’im border governorate because the operation was close to that area.”

“The operation was powerful and surprised the terrorists, and represented a great deterrent to Al-Qaeda because the military forces and their logistical support surprised Al-Qaeda members,” adding that “according to information I have, 70 were arrested and 13 were killed, while 9 vehicles were destroyed.”