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Iraqi forces lead raid on insurgent training camp

BAGHDAD, Iraq—Iraqi commandos, aided by American troops and helicopter gunships, raided a lakefront insurgent training camp near Tikrit on Tuesday, American and Iraqi officials confirmed Wednesday.

Iraqi officials claimed dozens of insurgents were killed, but the death toll was impossible to verify, and American officials said the raid's real importance was that Iraqi forces had dismantled an insurgent training camp.

"What's incredible is the (Iraqi troops') audacity and ability to rapidly seize the initiative after being attacked with both indirect and direct fires," said Maj. Neil Harper, a spokesman for the 42nd Infantry Division, the main U.S. military element in the area.

As important, he said, was the Iraqi troops' ability to destroy the insurgents, "keep them on the run and ... afraid to close their eyes when they try to sleep." The troops "took away what little they had to operate with," Harper said.

Ministry of Interior spokesman Sabah Khadim said 84 insurgents were killed, including at least 10 foreign fighters. Passports from Morocco, Algeria and Syria were found at the camp, he said. Seven police commandos were killed in the fighting.

No Americans were killed or injured in the operation, said Army Maj. Richard Goldenberg, also of the 42nd Infantry Division.

American officers offered no details of the battle, but if the death toll is correct, then it's likely that missiles from U.S. helicopters and fire from tanks or Bradley Fighting Vehicles killed most of the insurgents. Iraqi troops typically carry only assault rifles and heavy machine guns, which are unlikely to exact such a high toll.

Security forces found rocket-propelled grenades, small arms, bomb-making materials, weapons manuals, suicide bomber vests and several small boats, Goldenberg said. Several insurgents apparently escaped in boats across Lake Thar Thar, he said.

The fighting began around midday Tuesday with the insurgents shelling the commandos, who were headed toward the training camp, Harper said in an e-mail exchange. After forcing the insurgents to retreat, the commandos called in U.S. air support and ground troops, according to Harper.

The battle lasted about two hours.

Harper and Goldenberg said the number of insurgents killed hadn't been determined.

"The important takeaway is not the number of insurgents killed but the fact the (commandos) were able to deny and continue to deny any anti-Iraqi force the ability to train and conduct attacks," Harper said. Anti-Iraqi forces is how the U.S. military refers to the insurgents.

Iraq's nascent security forces have had some successes lately, arresting dozens of suspected insurgents in the Mosul area and forcing some insurgent leaders in Baghdad's Haifa Street neighborhood underground. But U.S. and Iraqi officials admit the local forces are a long way from having the control over the country necessary for American forces to begin to withdraw.


(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Shatha al Awsy and Yassir Salihee contributed to this report. Nesmith reports for The Miami Herald.)


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.