Marines take stronger action to deter rebels

Checkpoints, searches, curfew used in Ramadi

February 21, 2005|By T. Christian Miller | T. Christian Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq. - U.S. Marines stepped up operations against insurgents in Ramadi yesterday, part of an effort to clamp down on rebel strongholds as Iraqis tried to determine the shape of their new government.

Marines set up checkpoints, began inspecting vehicles and imposed a curfew on Ramadi, capital of the Sunni-dominated Anbar province, where Iraq's insurgents have been most active.

A Marine spokesman played down comparisons to the assault on the neighboring town of Fallujah in November, when more than 50 Marines and thousands of insurgents were killed in fighting to expel guerrillas.

The spokesman said the Ramadi operation was designed to ensure a peaceful transition from Iraqi's interim government to the transitional government forming after national elections last month.

The Marines set up similar security measures in nearby villages along the Euphrates River.

The operation "is designed to be more proactive as opposed to reactive," said 1st Lt. Nathan Braden, with the First Marine Expeditionary Force. "The extremists from Fallujah are not taking hold in Ramadi. The insurgency in Ramadi seems to be more criminal in nature."

Ramadi residents said the Marine positions around the town had frightened locals and emboldened insurgents, who could be seen running through the streets with AK-47s and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers.

"The city is paralyzed. All the shops and offices are closed. We are waiting for the security situation to get worse," Abdul-Altif Abdullah, a 43-year-old provincial official, said in a telephone interview.

City officials said there had been sporadic clashes in industrial areas in the eastern part of the city and a steady flow of aircraft and helicopters overhead. They described a tense mood.

The new operation came after two days of bloodshed that saw hundreds of Iraqis killed or wounded, most of them while celebrating Ashura, the most solemn day of the year for Shiite Muslims.

Yesterday saw a marked decrease in the number of incidents. A suicide bomber blew himself up in a car-bomb explosion near a mosque in Kirkuk in northern Iraq late Saturday night. Nobody else was injured in the blast, an Iraqi police official said on condition of anonymity.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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