Thursday, November 23, 2006

U.S. Fights Highly Trained Militants in Iraq


Sunni Arab militant groups suspected of ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have established training camps east of Baghdad that are turning out well-disciplined units willing to fight American forces in set-piece battles, American military commanders said Thursday.

American soldiers fought such units in a pitched battle last week in the village of Turki, 25 miles south of this Iraqi Army base in volatile Diyala Province, near the Iranian border. At least 72 insurgents and two American officers were killed in more than 40 hours of fighting. American commanders said they called in 12 hours of airstrikes while soldiers shot their way through a reed-strewn network of canals in extremely close combat.

Officers said that in this battle, unlike the vast majority of engagements in Diyala, insurgents stood and fought, even deploying a platoon-sized unit that showed remarkable discipline and that one captain said was in “perfect military formation.” The insurgents had built a labyrinthine network of trenches in the farmland, with sleeping areas and significant weapons caches. Two anti-aircraft guns had been hidden away.

Sunni Arab militants there belong to the fundamentalist Wahabbi strain of Islam and are believed to be led, at least in part, by a man known as Abu Abdul Rahman, an Iraqi-Canadian who moved from Canada to Iraq in 1995 after marrying a woman from Turki, the colonel said. Abu Abdul Rahman was mentioned on some jihadist Web sites as a possible contender for the leadership of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia after the group’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed in an American airstrike in Diyala Province last summer, said Capt. Mike Few, commander of A Troop, Fifth Squadron.

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