Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Iraqi commandos seize rebel base

BBC - Dozens of insurgents have been killed by Iraqi special forces backed by US troops in a raid on a training camp near the city of Tikrit, officials say.
An Iraqi commando unit engaged in heavy fighting before seizing control of the camp, 160km (100 miles) north-west of Baghdad, on Tuesday.

At least seven Iraqi commandos died, officials said. Between 45 and 80 insurgents were reported killed.

Correspondents say it is the heaviest blow to the insurgency in months.

Iraqi special forces attacked the training camp, at Lake Tharthar, on the border between the troubled mainly-Sunni provinces of Anbar and Salaheddin.

After encountering heavy fire, they called in US ground and air reinforcements.

Lt Col Sarmad Hassan Kamel, a commander of the special unit, said many of the insurgents were foreigners.

"Forty-five Arabs were killed, Saudis and Syrians, but there were other Iraqis," he said.

The US military confirmed the operation, but was unable to say how many insurgents were killed.

Spokesman Maj Richard Goldenberg said Iraqi forces now had complete control of the site.

"An early assessment of the site indicates a facility for training anti-Iraqi forces," he said.

Iraqi special police units have been stepping up operations against insurgents in recent weeks.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says the units are made up of experienced military men who served under the previous regime.

Though they are regarded with suspicion in some circles, he says, they are considered to be more reliable than conventional troops.

Also in the capital, witnesses said shopkeepers fought a gunbattle with insurgents on Tuesday, killing three of them.

Correspondents say the incident is the first time private citizens are known to have retaliated successfully against insurgents.