Iraqi forces launch offensive against Al Qaeda

July 30th, 2008 - 12:14 am ICT by IANS  

Baghdad, July 29 (DPA) Iraqi troops backed by US forces launched a major offensive Tuesday against Al Qaeda fighters in the country’s restive Diyala province while hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims poured to a shrine in Baghdad amid heightened security. Authorities in the province banned traffic and checkpoints were set up across the provincial capital Baquba, which has been the scene of frequent suicide bombings, some of them carried out by women.

The US military said the objective of the assault was to seek out and destroy terror threats in the province and seize control of smuggling corridors around it.

The offensive was launched mainly by Iraqi troops, according to the US military.

The Iraqi government has sent some 30,000 army and police forces since it announced its plan to launch the assault weeks ago.

Diyala, which stretches from the eastern outskirts of Baghdad to the Iraqi border with Iran, has been a safe haven for anti-US insurgents, mainly the Islamic State of Iraq, also known as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Sunni Arab insurgents, who were driven from other safe havens elsewhere in Iraq, have regrouped in Diyala and carried out deadly attacks on troops and civilians.

Many Iraqis have fled their homes in the province, once the country’s farming heaven with its orchards and palm trees.

The province also contains breakaway groups from the al-Mahdi Army militia of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Diyala has an ethnically mixed population of Sunni and Shia Arabs, Turkmen and Kurds, leading to ethnic and sectarian clashes.

In Baghdad, hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims poured on the shrine of the revered Imam Mussa al-Khazim in the northern Kazimiyah district.

Thousands of security forces were deployed in Baghdad and Kazimiyah, which was the scene of previous attacks on pilgrims. Policewomen have been deployed for the first time to body search female visitors.

Three female bombers attacked pilgrims’ convoys Monday, killing at least 32 people.

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