Iraq begins unprecedented security offensive

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The Iraqi government on Sunday launched a massive military operation to seal off Baghdad and root out the insurgents who have killed more than 600 people since the newly-elected government took power a month ago.

The government has promised an impenetrable cordon of 40,000 police and soldiers that would make movement in or out of Baghdad impossible for several days this week.

“The operation began today, the troops will block all entrances of Baghdad to prevent terrorists from conducting activities in the capital. It’s a crackdown on the terrorism infrastructure,” a defence ministry official told Reuters on Sunday.

The clampdown marks the most determined effort by Iraq's new government to assert its control after a surge of violence eroded hopes that the political progress would help defeat the insurgency.

Insurgents kept up their attacks across Iraq on Sunday, as one British soldier was killed and several were wounded in an apparent explosion in southeastern Iraq, a British military spokesman said.

“There has been a hostile action against British troops...which has resulted in a fatality,” a spokesman for Britain’s ministry of defence said.

According to the Iraqi government, some 620 people have died in the past month of insurgent violence and two thirds of the victims have been civilians.

US security officials say earlier plans to form a protective seal around Baghdad turned out to be inadequate, because car bombs are often assembled inside the city.

This time, 675 checkpoints set up by the security forces will be supplemented by additional roving checkpoints, to control the flow of traffic within the city.

While Iraqi security forces show varying competence on daily patrols, they proved themselves capable of large-scale co-ordination in defending polling stations on election day January 30.

A government official said the operation in Baghdad would be followed by similar ones in other cities within the next two weeks.

Iraq's rapidly expanding security forces can now muster some 155,000 troops all in all, more than the total of US-led and coalition forces in the country, according to US military commanders.

But the readiness of Iraqi units varies widely, and US forces still provide critical support for every significantIraqi mission.

Additional reporting by Awadh al-Taee

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