Iraqi government forces and American units launched a major operation Saturday to retake a northern town. Troops combed the streets of Tal Afar, using Bradley armored vehicles to smash down walls in a house-to-house search for resistance fighters.
"At 2 a.m. today, acting on my orders, Iraqi forces started an operation to remove all remaining terrorist elements from the city of Tel Afar," Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said in a statement. "These forces are operating with support from the Multinational Force."
The town is located on the Euphrates River 260 miles northwest of Baghdad. It has been largely outside the control of occupation forces since the 2003 invasion. Most of the city's 200,000 people reportedly have fled to the surrounding countryside.
On Friday, the government hinted the operation was imminent, and the U.S. military reported killing 11 fighters during raids over the past two days.
"The terrorist elements being targeted by this operation are guilty of blatant crimes against its people," Jafaari's statement said, according to The AP. "They want to deny the citizens of Tel Afar their future in a democratic and peaceful Iraq. We want to guarantee those rights. These operations are being conducted precisely for that purpose."
On his part, Iraq's Defense Minister Saadoun al-Dulaimi said that in the past two days, 141 "terrorists" had been killed and 197 wounded. Five government soldiers died and three were injured, he added.
Some 30 miles south of Baghdad, meanwhile, police located the bodies of 18 men who had been handcuffed and shot to death in Iskandariya. "Two days ago gunmen in police uniforms broke into their houses in a Shiite neighborhood of Iskandariya," police Capt. Adel Kitab said, according to The AP.