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Iraq, US move against rebel stronghold
Updated: 2005-09-11 09:32

Baghdad International Airport reopened Saturday after a 24-hour closure, begun when a British security firm stopped working because it had not been paid for seven months. After overnight negotiations, the government agreed to pay half of what it owed, and employees of the London-based Global Strategies Group were ordered back to work.

With the Tal Afar offensive under way, the Iraqi defense minister signaled his U.S.-trained forces would not stop after this operation and vowed to move against insurgent bastions throughout the country.

"We say to our people ... we are coming," said Defense Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi.

The latest drive against the stubborn insurgency began with just over a month to go until Iraqis vote on adopting a permanent constitution

Wrangling during the drafting of the charter, which faces stiff opposition from the country's Sunni Arab minority, highlighted distrust among Iraq's volatile ethnic and religious mix as well as worries that Iraq might eventually split apart.

Sunnis claim the document favors the long-oppressed Shiite majority and the Kurds, who have run a semiautonomous state in the north since the end of the first Gulf War. Both Shiites and Kurds appear eager to set up a loose confederation of mini-states after decades of repression by a centralized government in Baghdad.

The offensive in Tal Afar, 260 miles northwest of Baghdad, is especially delicate because of the tangle of ethnic sensitivities.

About 90 percent of the city's 200,000 people — most fled to the countryside before the fighting — are Sunni Turkmen who have complained about their treatment from the Shiite-dominated government and police force put in place after the U.S. invasion in 2003.
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