Tuesday, July 17, 2007

At least the houses they used

Are flat. But the next question is... where did al-Qaeda go?
Al-Qaeda escapes US assault
By Ahmed Ali

BAQUBA, Iraq - Air strikes have destroyed homes rather than al-Qaeda targets under the US military operation in Baquba, residents say. But residents speak of relief that al-Qaeda has been driven out of the city by US forces.

Fifty kilometers northeast of Baghdad, the volatile capital city of Diyala province is home to roughly 325,000 people. The region that has been home to fruit orchards and rural farming has been hit hard by the military conflict.

On June 19, tens of thousands of US soldiers were deployed in Operation Arrowhead Ripper to attack militants in Baquba. The ongoing operation is one of the largest thus far in the US-led occupation of Iraq.

Diyala province is inhabited by a mix of Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs, as well as Kurds. The province has been openly hostile toward occupation forces, and attacks against US forces have been commonplace since early in the occupation.

According to the US Department of Defense, Diyala province is the fifth-deadliest of Iraq's 18 provinces for US troops, with at least 186 killed there thus far.

After several weeks of the siege in Baquba, people were allowed in recent days to go to work. Witnesses spoke about fierce attacks by helicopters, and shelling of houses by US tanks.

"The US military bombed houses that were completely uninhabited," said Kadhim Rajab, a 39-year-old city official. "Al-Qaeda had left the city before the operation even began because they knew what was coming even before we did."

But residents did speak of an al-Qaeda presence earlier. "US troops bombed a number of houses that were actually used by al-Qaeda," said Ibrahim Hameed, a 43-year-old secondary-school teacher. "But there was no resistance at all, we heard no shooting."

Ismail Aboud, a 51-year-old physician, said the US military had deliberately avoided armed clashes with militants. "It seems that the forces allowed the terrorists to leave the battlefield in order to avoid direct military clashes," he said.

Abu Mohammed, a 54-year-old grocer, said US troops were now moving unarmed in the streets. "The troops appear absolutely sure that there is no resistance to face."
We keep cleaning up areas and leaving, and watching the area refill with insurgents. Eternal War on Terror, indeed.

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