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Troops Launch Operation to Control Ramadi

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

This weekend, U.S. forces in Iraq have zeroed in on the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi west of Baghdad. Iraqi troops joined the U.S. forces and set up outposts on the city's southern edge. The goal is to establish Iraqi security forces inside Ramadi, which has been the base for many insurgents since the fall of Fallujah in 2004.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay is on the line from Baghdad to give us the latest.

Jamie, U.S. and Iraqi troops established bases overnight around Ramadi. Has the operation begun in earnest?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, the U.S. military is actually trying to play down the importance of this operation, and one of the ground forces commanders is actually saying he has fewer soldiers on the ground than he did, for example, earlier in the month. But having said that, the show of force that they're seeing in Ramadi right now includes long rows of tanks, Marines in boats patrolling the Euphrates River, which is nearby. There are Iraqi sniper teams. Last night, they encircled the southern side of Ramadi and the Iraqi security forces in particular have set up positions outside this perimeter and have said that their aim so far is to be able to block key routes for the insurgents where they come in to receive a lot of their supplies and their reinforcements.

ELLIOTT: Haven't U.S. troops gone into Ramadi before?

TARABAY: Yes, they have. For months and months, they've been going in and out of Ramadi, conducting raids, to go in there and find insurgent strongholds, seize weapons.

ELLIOTT: Now, in Baghdad last week, Iraqi security forces launched a huge operation to stop the bombings and sectarian killings there. What's been happening with that crackdown?

TARABAY: Well, the actual visible presence of the Iraqi security forces has tapered off out there towards the end of the week. Just even today, you know, ten bakery workers were seized and taken by gunmen who drove up to the bakery in broad daylight and forced them into the cars and drove off with them. So we're still waiting for an actual change in the situation on the ground here.

ELLIOTT: Friday night, two U.S. servicemen disappeared in Yusefia southwest of Baghdad. What's being done to find them?

TARABAY: Well, the U.S. military says it hasn't stopped searching since the soldiers went missing on Friday night. We are seeing reports that locals who live in the area say that they saw gunmen drive up and force the two soldiers into cars and made off with them. But the U.S. military has only said so far that the soldiers are missing.

There was a third soldier who was also killed in the attack on the checkpoint. We also understand from some reports that we're seeing that soldiers are offering $100,000 in reward for any information that might lead to the missing soldiers, but we've got a comment from the U.S. military saying that that isn't the case.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad. Thank you for speaking with us.

TARABAY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Jamie Tarabay
After reporting from Iraq for two years as NPR's Baghdad Bureau Chief, Jamie Tarabay is now embarking on a two year project reporting on America's Muslims. The coverage will take in the country's approx 6 million Muslims, of different ethnic, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, and the issues facing their daily lives as Americans.