Guns fall silent in second day of Iraq offensive11/09/2005 - 16:54:21
Fighting eased today on the second day of a sweep through a militant stronghold near the Syrian border as insurgents melted into the countryside - many escaping through a tunnel network they dug under the ancient city in the north of Iraq.
The 8,500-strong Iraqi-US force continued house-to-house searches in Tal Afar, and military leaders said the assault would push all along the Syrian frontier and in the Euphrates River valley.
Cities and towns along the river are bastions of the insurgency, a collection of foreign fighters and disaffected Sunni Muslims, many of them Saddam Hussein loyalists.
About 5,000 Iraqi soldiers, backed by a 3,500-strong American armoured force, reported 156 insurgents killed and 246 captured.
The force discovered a big bomb factory, 18 weapons cache’s and the tunnel network in the ancient Sarai neighbourhood of Tal Afar, 60 miles east of the Syrian border.
“The terrorists had seen it coming (and prepared) tunnel complexes to be used as escape routes,” Major General Rick Lynch told reporters in Baghdad.
Iraqi Defence Minister Sadoun al-Dulaimi said the sweep of Tal Afar was carried out at the request of city residents and would be a model as his forces attacked other insurgent-held cities in quick succession.
“After the Tal Afar operation ends, we will move on Rabiyah (on the Syrian border) and Sinjar (a region north of nearby Mosul) and then go down to the Euphrates valley,” al-Dulaimi said.
“We are warning those who have given shelter to terrorists that they must stop, kick them out or else we will cut off their hands, heads and tongues as we did in Tal Afar,” al-Dulaimi said, apparently using figurative language.
In Baghdad, the Interior Ministry director of police training was gunned down in front of his home in a western neighbourhood as he waited for a lift to work. Maj Gen Adnan Abdul Rihman died on the spot, said local police commander Maj Musa Abdul Karim.
The US military said a Task Force Liberty Soldier was killed in a roadside bombing before dawn today while on patrol near Samarra, 60 miles north of the capital.
In the southern city of Basra, one British soldier was killed and three were wounded when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy, the Ministry of Defence said in London.
In the Tal Afar sweep, Al-Dulaimi said five government soldiers were killed and three wound in what was the biggest military operation in Iraq for months.
Colonel HR McMasters, commander of the American contingent from 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, said the Sarai neighbourhood was nearly deserted when the fighting died down late on Saturday.
“The enemy decided to bail out,” he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari ordered the nearby Rabiyah border crossing closed in an attempt to staunch the flow of insurgents from Syria. He said the closure would last indefinitely and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the region.
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