US soldiers continue their sweep

While the two crew members of the Apache helicopter and the pilot of the F-16 escaped unhurt, a civilian spokesman for the occupation forces said there were many deaths in the sweep being carried out in western Iraq. 

The US forces also raided what they said was a "terrorist training camp" north-west of Baghdad on Thursday after  pounding it from the air.

A US military statement said the operation began in the early hours with air strikes before US soldiers stormed the camp, about 150 km from Baghdad.

One US soldier was injured in the raid, the statement said. It gave no details about the camp or Iraqi casualties.

The raid was part of “Operation Peninsula Strike” aimed at cracking down on resistance groups and capturing Baath Party members.

Thousands of US troops have been deployed around the Tigris river town of Al-Dholouiya about 70 km north of Baghdad, said US Central Command spokesman Lieutenant Ryan Fitzgerald.

The troops are backed by fighter jets, attack helicopters and unmanned aerial drones.

Fitzgerald said US troops were questioning 400 Iraqi detainees, captured on Wednesday, about those on Washington’s most-wanted list who have evaded arrest.

Four US soldiers were injured during the sweep.

Other US military officials said American intelligence had made progress in uncovering those behind attacks targeting US soldiers. 

Attacks on occupation forces have been regular ever since US tanks rolled into Baghdad on 9 April.

POW dies

Meanwhile, an Iraqi prisoner of war held at a facility run by occupation forces was found dead, the US military said.

Washington holds about 2,000
POWs in Iraq

The detainee, who was found dead on 6 June at the facility near the south-eastern city of Nassiriya, had been in custody since 3 May.

It was unclear how the prisoner had died and whether he was killed by his American captors.

“A full and thorough investigation into the death is being conducted…and the findings will be released when the investigation is complete,” the Americans said in a statement.

Washington continues to hold about 2,000 POWs in Iraq.

Persecuting journalists

In other developments, US forces said they would prosecute Iraqi journalists if they published anything that encourages violence against occupation troops.

The measure came after a Baghdad newspaper retracted a story accusing US soldiers of gang-raping two Iraqi teenage girls.

The Al-Saah newspaper on Wednesday withdrew the allegation after further investigating the matter and discovering the report was based on “local hearsay”. Two journalists were fired.

Allegations of immoral conduct
by US forces are spreading

The US Central Command said the paper was “purposefully” seeking to “damage the credibility of our forces”.

The newspaper’s managing editor Adeeb Shaaban was an aide of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s son Uday. He has been in US custody for nearly two weeks.

Alleged bounties

Meanwhile, Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of an exiled Iraqi group, claimed earlier this week that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was seen north of Baghdad as recently as three weeks ago.

Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that Hussein was paying a bounty for every US soldier killed, using $1.3 billion in cash missing from the Central Bank on 18 March.

Pentagon officials said they had no information that Hussein was alive and offering rewards for killing US troops.