American and Iraqi forces posted north of Baghdad are preparing checkpoints to net any insurgents who flee Iraq’s capital city to avoid an expected anti-terrorist dragnet there, a senior U.S. military officer told Pentagon reporters today.
“Because of the pressures in Baghdad, we believe that the threat forces will try to move to Saladin (province) and find safe havens and try to wait out the operations down in Baghdad,” Army Col. Bryan Owens, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team with headquarters in Tikrit, Iraq, told reporters here during a satellite-enabled news conference.
President Bush has authorized deployment of more than 21,000 additional U.S. soldiers and Marines to Baghdad and parts of western Iraq to assist in stemming sectarian violence. Most of those troops will be posted to Baghdad to help Iraqi forces round up insurgents.
Owens’ unit, part of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., was deployed for its second tour in Iraq in August. The 3rd Brigade is assigned to Multinational Division North and works with Iraqi security forces and U.S. State Department provincial reconstruction teams in Salahaddin province to provide stability and resuscitate the local economy, he said.
Owens’ troops are establishing fortified traffic checkpoints across his area of operations that will be manned by Iraqi soldiers and police, he said.
The 3rd BCT’s soldiers also are conducting “operations into known and suspected safe havens to try to find these threat forces,” the colonel said.
Salahaddin province encompasses an area about the size of Vermont and is home to 1.2 million Iraqis, mostly Sunni Arabs with some Shiias and Kurds, Owens said. Major cities in the province include Tikrit, Balad, Samarra and Bayji, he said.
Violence in the province has decreased since the outbreak of sectarian strife that followed the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra last February, Owens noted. Today’s relative peace, he said, can be credited to the province’s governor, who secured an anti-violence agreement from local tribal sheiks last fall.
The 3rd BTC and its Iraqi partners have been preparing for an inflow of insurgents from Baghdad during the past several days, Owens said. So far, he noted, things are relatively quiet.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve had a significant flow (of insurgents) from Baghdad,” Owens said, “but we continue to work and monitor according to our plans.”