BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S.-led forces detained more than a dozen suspected militants in a counterinsurgency sweep through the western Anbar province as part of a sustained effort to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters to Iraq, the military said Thursday.
Separately, a Sunni Arab politician who brokered secret talks between American officials and insurgents said he has formed a group to give political voice to Iraqi fighters, and demanded a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal.
More than 1,000 suspected insurgents captured in the ongoing Operation Lightning in and around Baghdad will face criminal trials in the coming days, said police Col. Adnan Adul Rahman, who works at the Interior Ministry. He did not provide further details.
The developments came amid mushrooming violence that has killed more than 1,370 people — mostly civilians and Iraqi forces — since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari announced his Shiite-led government April 28. With the Sunni Arab-dominated insurgency targeting the Shiite majority, the wave of killings has raised fears of civil war.
There have been several U.S.-led military campaigns attempting to quell the sectarian bloodshed by taking aim at foreign fighter networks. More than 1,000 American and Iraqi troops conducting Operation Sword have detained 13 insurgents in the Anbar provincial city of Hit, 85 miles west of Baghdad.
The troops have met little resistance since the operation began Tuesday, said U.S. Marine Capt. Jeffrey Pool, a spokesman. The raids have also netted several hundred mortar and artillery rounds along with explosives, rifles and two roadside bombs, he said.
The troops were moving through communities along the Euphrates River in the third major campaign in Anbar province in recent weeks. Pool said no casualties have been reported among American and Iraqi troops in Operation Sword.
Elsewhere, coalition forces, at the request of Iraq”s vice president, released Sheik Daher Khamis al-Dhari several hours after detaining him on Wednesday in a raid west of Baghdad, the U.S. military said. The Association of Muslims Scholars had previously issued a statement condemning the detention of al-Dhari, head of the Zubaa tribe.
In another development, former Cabinet member Ayham al-Samarie announced that he has formed the National Council for Unity and Construction of Iraq to give representation to Iraqi fighters. Al-Samarie, a dual Iraq-U.S. citizen, is thought to have strong tribal links throughout the Sunni triangle, where the Sunni branch of the insurgency is concentrated.
The announcement on Wednesday marked the most serious effort to date to draw disenfranchised Sunnis into the political process. It followed confirmation from U.S. officials including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the United States has negotiated with some insurgents.
At a news conference in a Baghdad home, al-Samarie said the new political front is representing "resistance" fighters who have not carried out attacks against civilians.
Nearly all car bomb and suicide attacks carried out against Iraqis are thought to be the work of Islamic extremist groups such as al-Qaida in Iraq.
But at least one prominent Shiite legislator dismissed al-Samarie”s effort.
"The general terrorist program is to attack electricity plants, water and oil pipelines, mosques, churches and to target the innocents, police and the army. These are terrorist acts, and cannot be represented as acts of resistance," said the legislator, Saad Jawad Qandil.
The insurgents al-Samarie represents want U.S. troops to leave Iraq in one to three years and military campaigns against Iraqi cities and towns to end, al-Samarie said. They won”t put down their arms unless all their goals are met, he added.
A British newspaper this week reported that al-Samarie brokered two recent meetings between U.S. officials and a group of rebels. Al-Samarie confirmed the talks but wouldn”t give details. Al-Samarie was electricity minister in the interim government and comes from Samarra, an insurgent stronghold 60 miles north of Baghdad.