BAGHDAD - Security forces in Baghdad have full
control in only 40 percent of the city five months into the pacification
campaign, a top American general said Saturday as US troops began an offensive
against two al-Qaida strongholds on the capital's southern outskirts.
The military, meanwhile, reported that paratroopers had found the ID cards of
two missing US soldiers at an al-Qaida safe house 75 miles north of where they
were captured last month, but there was no sign of the men. The house contained
computers, video equipment and weapons.
A mother clutches a t-shirt of one of 13 members of an Iraqi
tae kwon do team kidnapped last year in Anbar province, outside a hospital
in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, June 16,
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said American troops launched the offensive in
Baghdad's Arab Jabour and Salman Pac neighborhoods Friday night. It was the
first time in three years that US soldiers entered those areas, where al-Qaida
militants build car bombs and launch Katyusha rockets at American bases and
Shiite Muslim neighborhoods.
The overall commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, said during a news
conference with visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the operation would
put troops into key al-Qaida-held areas surrounding Baghdad.
Odierno said there was a long way to go in retaking the city from Shiite
Muslim militias, Sunni Arab insurgents and al-Qaida terrorists. He said only
about "40 percent is really very safe on a routine basis" -- with about 30
percent lacking control and a further 30 percent suffering "a high level of
The US ground forces commander discussed the new offensive and the security
situation in an interview with two reporters as he visited an American outpost
near the main market in the capital's southern Dora district, a major Sunni Arab
"There's about 30 percent of the city that needs work, like here in Dora and
the surrounding areas," Odierno said. "Those are the areas that we consider to
be the hot spots, which usually have a Sunni-Shiite fault line, and also areas
where al-Qaida has decided to make a stand."
With Baghdad and Basra -- the country's second largest city and gateway
to the Persian Gulf -- under curfew, violent deaths were down dramatically
Saturday. Only three people were reported to have been killed or found dead in
That did not include the discovery of 13 bodies of a tae kwon do team
kidnapped last year in western Iraq while driving to a training camp in
neighboring Jordan. The bodies were found 65 miles west of Ramadi, police and
hospital officials said.
The US military revealed that identification cards belonging to the two
missing soldiers were found June 9 near Samarra but said no one was in the safe
house. Troops approaching the building came under fire from nearby trees,
suffering two wounded before air support intervened, the statement said.
Spc. Alex R. Jimenez and Pvt. Byron Fouty were snatched in a raid on their
10th Mountain Division unit on May 12 near Youssifiyah. The body of a third
soldier taken in the raid, Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., was found floating in the
Euphrates River. Four other US soldiers and an Iraqi translator were killed in
the May 12 ambush.
The Islamic State of Iraq, a front group for al-Qaida, claimed in a video
posted on the Internet this month that all three missing soldiers were killed
and buried. The militants showed images of the military IDs of Jimenez, 25, of
Lawrence, Mass., and Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., but offered no proof they
Fouty's stepfather found hope in the ID find. "I take it as they keep moving
him, and that he's alive," Gordon Dibler Jr. said. "I was happy that they found
something tangible. I'm going to keep hoping."
Wendy Luzon, a friend of the Jimenez family, had a similar response. "It's
better than not getting any news for weeks," she said. "Getting this news is
something good. We keep hoping that he's alive. We have nothing that tells us
The military announced that a US soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in
southern Baghdad and an Ohio National Guard pilot died when his F-16 fighter
crashed shortly after takeoff from Balad Air Base in central Iraq. The two
deaths Friday raised to at least 3,522 the number of US personnel who have died
since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to an AP count.
In Baghdad, aides to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press
that talks Saturday between the US defense secretary and the Iraqi leader were
Two top advisers to the prime minister said al-Maliki, a Shiite, objected
vigorously to the new US policy of arming and training Sunni militants in the
fight against al-Qaida.
A third said Gates told al-Maliki that political and legislative action
sought by the US, including a new law to share oil revenues among all Iraqis,
must be complete by September when the defense secretary has to report to
Congress on progress in Iraq.
Gates also met with President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, and expressed concern
that the security situation nationwide might be spiraling out of control, a
presidential aide said.
All the Iraqi officials agreed to discuss the talks only if not quoted by
name because they were not authorized to release details. They said they were
briefed on the talks by officials who attended the meetings.
The top US commander in the Middle East, Adm. William Fallon, delivered a
similar message to Iraqi leaders on June 10, and John Negroponte, the No. 2
State Department official, reinforced it in a visit at midweek.
Underscoring the challenges, Gates arrived in Baghdad on Friday to find a
city all but shut down by a security lockdown imposed after the bombing of an
important Shiite shrine north of the city. The explosion at the Askariya shrine
in Samarra destroyed the mosque's minarets and prompted at least two retaliatory
attacks -- both in southern Iraq.
On Saturday, attackers blew up the al-Ashrah al-Mubashra mosque in Basra at
dawn, residents in nearby houses said. As they were leaving, the bombers wrote
graffiti on the complex's outer wall with the names of revered Shiite saints,
witnesses said. No injuries were reported.