BAGHDAD - Some 5,000 U.S. Marines, British troops and Iraqi commandos launched a new offensive Tuesday aimed at clearing a swath of insurgent hotbeds south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
The joint operation kicked off with early morning raids in the town of Jabella in Babil province, netting 32 suspected insurgents, "including a number of high-interest individuals," the U.S. military said in a statement. Jabella is 50 miles south of Baghdad.
Insurgent violence has spiked in the areas south of the capital in the wake of the U.S-led assault on the militant stronghold of Fallujah in "an apparent attempt to divert attention" away from Fallujah, the military said.
The cluster of dusty, small towns located south of the capital, has been a major area for insurgent activity. U.S. and Iraqi forces have come under repeated attacks by car bombs, rockets, and small arms fire in the area.
The region has become known as a “triangle of death” for the numerous attacks by Sunni Muslim insurgents and criminal gangs on Shiites, Westerners and members of the Iraqi security services.
In the past three weeks, Iraqi troops and Marines have detained nearly 250 insurgents in the area, the statement said.
They have been aided by British forces from the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch Regiment, who were brought into the area from southern Basra to aid American forces in closing off militant escape routes between Baghdad, Babil province to the south and Anbar province to the west.
It would be the third major military offensive against insurgents since the massive Fallujah operation, which has claimed the lives of more than 50 U.S. soldiers and injured more than 400.
Earlier this month, the northern city of Mosul witnessed a mass insurgent uprising in apparent support of Fallujah’s guerrillas. Some 2,400 U.S. troops were sent in to retake control over western parts of the city.
In a separate statement, the U.S. military said other troops overnight detained 38 individuals in a raid near Kirkuk, north of Baghdad. They are suspected of plotting attacks on coalition troops, the military said.
Bomb found on plane
Earlier Tuesday, the U.S. embassy reported that a bomb had been found on a commercial flight in Iraq.
The improvised device was discovered Monday, according to a spokeswoman. She declined to give further details but said security arrangements were tightened at Baghdad International Airport.