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Iraqi Casualties Mount; Marines Start Operation River Blitz

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2005 – Almost 100 Iraqis are dead following two days of terrorism in the country, officials said.

A wave of suicide bombings Feb. 18 and 19 were aimed at Shiia Muslims commemorating Ashura -- the holy day that marks the martyrdom of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.

Attacks on Feb. 19 killed 55 people, including an American soldier, and wounded more than 150. On Feb. 18, suicide bombers killed 36 people and injured about 75, Iraqi officials said. Saddam Hussein outlawed Ashura during his reign.

The attacks were staged near Kadimain shrine in Baghdad and outside a police station in Baqubah. Iraqi officials said they believe the Baqubah attack was the work of a group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. However, there were no attacks in Karbala, the Shiite holy city south of Baghdad. Last year, terrorists killed 181 people in Karbala.

An American soldier was killed in Baghdad when he responded to requests for help from Iraqi police. An Iraqi civilian was also killed in the blast of an improvised explosive device. Another U.S. soldier and an Iraqi National Guardsman were wounded.

In addition, a U.S. Marine was killed in Anbar province. The Marine Corps released no information on the attack.

Feb. 19, Multinational Force Iraq launched Operation River Blitz. U.S. Marines and Iraqi security forces increased security operations in and around Ramadi and throughout the Anbar province.

The operation includes a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and other measures to enhance security in the area. "We were asked by the Iraqi government to increase our security operations in the city to locate, isolate and defeat anti-Iraqi forces and terrorists who are intent on preventing a peaceful transition of power between the interim Iraqi government and the Iraqi transitional government," said Maj. Gen. Richard F. Natonski, commanding general of 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

Ramadi has been an insurgent hotbed for months. Officials believe some of the insurgents that escaped Fallujah in November ended up in this provincial capital.

U.S. Marines and Iraqi forces also increased security operations in Hit, Baghdadi and Hadithah. According to a Marine press release, "Operation River Blitz is designed to target criminals and terrorists who have attempted to destabilize the Anbar province by terrorizing the populace through wanton acts of violence and intimidation."

In Baghdad, Iraqi police and coalition soldiers detained 17 suspected terrorists and seized multiple weapons in overnight and early-morning raids today.

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