30/06/2003

Hundreds detained during arrest operations in Iraq

The US military has said that thousands of suspected Baath Party members and sympathizers have been rounded up following search and seizure operations in Iraq over the past two weeks.

Operation Desert Scorpion, which the US army launched on June 15, has led to the arrest of 1,330 people, along with the seizure of weapons and ammunition.

Operation Sidewinder, which began yesterday, has seen US soldiers conduct eight raids and detain 32 people. US officials claimed that a leading Baath Party member was among those detained.

A spokesperson for the US military said that personnel were being "aggressive in patrolling and maintaining security throughout the country".

"Whether or not there is a named operation, we remain very aggressive in our patrolling activities," Marine Maj Sean Gibson said. "Our goal is to remove Baath Party officials, terrorists and criminal elements who are preventing peace and security in Iraq and slowing rebuilding in the country."

On Saturday, two US soldiers who had been missing since June 25 were found dead west of Al Taji – about 40 kilometers north of Baghdad.

A spokesperson said that their vehicle was discovered during an aerial search. Twelve people have since been arrested in connection with the deaths.

The US death toll since the end of the war on May 1 is now over 60.

The US actions follow on from last week's tragic events in Basra in which six British military policemen were chased down and killed by a crowd of Iraqis angered at weapons searches. It was the first loss of life suffered by the British army since April 6.

It has been reported today that members of the Parachute Regiment were within 100 yards of the RMPs during the attack but due to a failure in communications, an SOS message was not relayed to them.

(GMcG)

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