The city lay deserted after authorities placed it under the 36-hour curfew on Friday evening.

 

All traffic was banned and shops were forced to close.

 

Kirkuk, 250 km north of Baghdad, is an ethnically mixed city claimed by Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen which has seen an upsurge of violence.

 

Speaking to Aljazeera from Kirkuk, Turhan Abdul-Rahman Yusif, the deputy director of Kirkuk police, said: "The Iraqi forces have carried out the campaign and the preliminary results are very good. Kirkuk did not witness any security breakdown during the implementation of the plan.

 

"A long-running curfew will really hurt us"

Azad Mahmud Taqi, stall-holder

"We have confiscated illegal weapons and arrested suspects with whom investigation is still underway."

 

Jamal Taher, a major-general, said that a 15 km trench had been dug south of the city in the last week to try to prevent fighters and car bombs from entering the city.

 

Ramadan difficulties

 

The curfew is especially trying for civilians during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which households often spend the whole day preparing elaborate meals for sunset, when they break their daytime fast.

 

Azad Mahmud Taqi, a stall-holder, said: "We were not told of the curfew and our shops in the markets of Kirkuk and Khan al-Tamir import vegetables from neighboring countries like Iran and Turkey.

 

"A long-running curfew will really hurt us."

 

According to witnesses, the security forces' approach seemed to vary by what neighborhood they were searching or what unit was carrying out the search.

 

In some places buildings were violently stormed while in others, police politely asked for permission to enter.

 

Following each search, residents were given a piece of paper to verify that the house had been inspected.

 

"This was an activity planned and directed by the Iraqi government"

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, US military spokesman

Roads into the city have been closed and in some cases sealed with newly dug trenches to cut down on infiltration by fighters.

 

Captain Emad Jassim Khidr said: "We are tightening security on these entrances and searching the incoming vehicles."

 

Limited US involvement

 

US military involvement is largely restricted to an air support and advisory role, US officials said.

 

Lieutenant-colonel Barry Johnson, a US military spokesman, said: "This was an activity planned and directed by the Iraqi government.

 

"As we are partnered with them in security operations, coalition forces are assisting the effort."

 

Violence has recently erupted in Kirkuk, with rival Arab and Kurdish factions vying for control of a city which sits on a significant portion of Iraq's oil wealth.

 

The Sunni Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna, an ally of al-Qaeda, has been singled out in particular for its role in deadly car bomb attacks.

 

The curfew and security operation coincides with a number of other operations in Iraqi cities, including the capital Baghdad, the mixed city of Baquba and across the western province of Al-Anbar.