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

Addressing that complaint, Jabr announced Saturday that 1,000 additional police officers would be hired in Tal Afar after the offensive and that they would be chosen from the Turkmen population.

The Turkmen have a vocal ally in their Turkish brethren to the north, where Turkey's government is a vital U.S. ally and has fought against its own Kurdish insurgency for decades. Tal Afar is next to land controlled by Iraqi Kurds.

Turkey voiced disapproval of U.S. tactics when American forces ran insurgents out of Tal Afar a year ago. The Turkmen residents complained that Iraqi Kurds were fighting alongside the Americans.

U.S. and Kurdish officials denied the allegation, but the Turkish government threatened to stop cooperating with the Americans. The siege was lifted the next day and insurgents began returning when the Americans quickly pulled out, leaving behind only a skeleton force of 500 soldiers.

For those reasons, U.S. forces stood back during the new sweep through Tal Afar, allowing Iraqi forces to break down doors in the search for insurgents. The Americans followed behind, securing positions while the Iraqis advanced.

"I can see why the terrorists chose this place for a fight, it's like a big funnel of death," Sgt. William Haslett of Rocklin, Calif., said of the twisting streets and alleys Tal Afar's old city.

Twelve hours after the offensive began, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said insurgents had been trying to "to isolate Tal Afar from the political process as we are preparing for the referendum on the draft constitution."

Al-Dulaimi, who joined al-Jaafari at the news conference, said he expected the offensive to last three days and complained Iraq's neighbors had not done enough to stop the flow of foreign fighters.

"I regret to say that instead of sending medicines to us, our Arab brothers are sending terrorists," al-Dulaimi said.

The interior minister read al-Jaafari's order closing the border on Iraqi television late Saturday. The decree indefinitely shut the Rabiyah crossing to all transportation, including the railroad, except for vehicles with special permission from the Interior Ministry.

The order did not affect the frontier crossing near the insurgent stronghold of Qaim or the major highway into Syria.

In other developments Saturday:

_Jordan's Prime Minister Adnan Badran visited Baghdad, meeting with Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi in a symbolic show of support that was seen as an attempt to shore up relations between the Arab neighbors.

_Iraqi police seized a huge cache of explosives hidden in a gravel truck heading for the holy city of Karbala, where tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims were to begin assembling to celebrate the birth of Imam al-Mahdi — one of Shiite Islam's most important holidays.

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