Offensive targets insurgents

U.S. focuses on area where 22 Marines died

August 06, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

The U.S. military said yesterday that it had begun a major offensive in the rebellious desert region of western Iraq where at least 22 Marines have been killed since Monday, in one of the deadliest weeks of the war for the Americans.

Meanwhile, with a first draft of the new constitution due in 10 days, the country's most revered Shiite cleric made explicit recommendations for the first time.

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, wants Islam to be "the main source" of legislation, supports regional autonomy and wants an electoral system that would give Sunni Arabs more representation in the next parliament, said Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi prime minister, who met with the ayatollah for several hours in the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

Some of those stances are strongly opposed by other political groups, and al-Sistani's words could set the stage for a showdown between Shiite leaders and others over the constitution. The country's major ethnic and sectarian groups are at an impasse over several crucial issues.

The U.S. offensive in Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency, involves a sweep by more than 800 Marines and nearly 200 Iraqi soldiers around the recalcitrant towns of Haditha, Haqliniyah and Barwanah.

Meanwhile, U.S. military and intelligence officials said yesterday that many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there, raising the prospect of increased foreign help for Iraqi insurgents.

The spread of the new weapons seems to suggest a new and unusual area of cooperation between Iranian Shiites and Iraqi Sunnis aimed at driving U.S. forces out. The commanders said they could make little sense of that given the increasing violence between the two sects in Iraq.

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