More than 50 U.S.-led raids across Iraq have resulted in the capture of dozens of Saddam Fedayeen and other Iraqi insurgents, including those believed responsible for an ambush last month that killed seven Spanish intelligence officers, the coalition said Wednesday.
One of the most extensive raids came in the town of Lutafiyah, south of Baghdad, where paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division and Iraqi police carried out Operation Panther Squeeze, going to 18 separate locations searching for those behind the attack on the Spanish forces.
“During the raids, 15 primary targets were captured with a total of 41 enemy personnel taken for questioning,” a statement from the 82nd Airborne said.
The 82nd Airborne said the “actual attackers” were among those captured, as was the cell leader, a man identified as Abu Abdullah. In addition, forces captured an Iraqi intelligence officer, a financier of the Iraqi insurgents and doctors “who treat terrorists so they can avoid treatment at local hospitals.”
The statement also said a vehicle possibly used in the recent assassination of the Lutafiyah police chief was seized.
The 82nd Airborne said since the November 29 attack on the Spanish intelligence officers, there has been a “significant amount of human intelligence” coming from the Lutafiyah region.
“There are indications that terrorist activities are no longer tolerable to the average citizen there,” the statement says.
The deadly attack on the Spanish officers occurred as the agents were headed south in a convoy when their two civilian cars were struck by rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons. It took place near Suwayrah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, on the main highway connecting Baghdad to Hillah.
The coalition also was on the offensive in other regions of Iraq.
The 101st Airborne Division carried out dozens of raids around Mosul in northern Iraq, capturing numerous Saddam loyalists, including a former Fedayeen brigadier general.
The 101st Airborne said 52 individuals were detained after operations against 34 targets across Mosul early Wednesday. Those taken into custody included the brigadier general, other Fedayeen officers and Baath Party loyalists.
A second operation by the 101st Airborne in the nearby village of Salamiyah resulted in the search of 110 houses and the seizing of several weapons and munitions.
In New York Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that it is too dangerous for the United Nations to return to Iraq at this time.
“Under the circumstances, it is difficult to envisage the United Nations operating with a large number of international staff inside Iraq in the near future unless there is an unexpected and significant improvement in the overall security situation,” Annan said in a report released Wednesday.
“The security environment is unlikely to improve in the short to medium term and could deteriorate even further,” he wrote.
He said that U.N. facilities would be “high-value, high-impact” targets for terrorists in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
While the United States is not looking for the United Nations to have a high-profile role in the political process in Iraq, it had been hoping for a quick return of U.N. personnel.
Missile suspected in aircraft hit
Underscoring Annan’s concerns, U.S. military sources said Wednesday that a C-17 military aircraft was apparently hit by a surface-to-air missile shortly after taking off early Tuesday from Baghdad International Airport.
The plane landed safely after “some type of explosion in one of the engines,” a military spokesman said, and one crew member suffered a minor injury.
A coalition military source said that a surface-to-air missile launch was recorded at the airport Tuesday morning, and Pentagon sources said it appears some kind of missile may have struck the C-17.
Two U.S. soldiers die in Mosul
Also in Mosul Wednesday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in separate attacks, according to Maj. Trey Cate of the 101st Airborne Division.
In the first strike, soldiers were trying to secure a gas station when attackers started shooting from two passing vehicles, Cate said. The attackers fired at both sides of the street, hitting the U.S. soldiers on one side and the nearby Kurdish Democratic Party (PUK) headquarters on the other.
One American soldier was killed and another wounded in the drive-by shooting, Cate said.
A Kurdish guard also was killed and two wounded at the PUK offices, according to an official with the PUK, one of the two main Kurdish parties in northern Iraq.
In the second attack, small-arms fire and an improvised explosive device hit a convoy in east Mosul, Cate said. One soldier died, and three were wounded, he said.
With the latest violence, 451 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war, including 310 from hostile fire. Of those, 312 have died # 195 from hostile fire # since President Bush declared an end to major combat May 1.