US launches Iraq offensive

In Baghdad the sound of heavy gunfire and explosions echoed across the Iraqi capital for a second night as US forces stepped up a crackdown against suspected guerrillas.

    Iron hammered: the morning after heavy US airstrikes

    A military spokesman said US troops had launched ground and a

    ir strikes on Thursday against "enemy targets" as part of Operation Iron

    Hammer, launched on Wednesday.

    On Wednesday, a Spectre gunship destroyed a Baghdad warehouse

    which the US military said was a planning centre for attacks on

    its forces.

    Two Iraqis were killed in a helicopter strike on a van which

    US forces said had been used to launch mortars.

    In the US, the general in charge of US forces said about 5000 "dangerous" loyalists 

    of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein are fighting the US-led occupation

    in Iraq but they can be overcome.

    General John Abizaid, head of the Central Command, which runs

    operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the Saddam loyalists are

    well-armed, well-financed and have "a brutal and determined"



    "The clear and most dangerous enemy to us at the present time are

    the former regime loyalists"

    General John Abizaid,
    head of Central Command

    He told a media conference at the command headquarters in Tampa, Florida:

    "The clear and most dangerous enemy to us at the present time are

    the former regime loyalists."

    Abizaid said followers of the former ruling Baathist party

    operate mainly around Baghdad and the northern cities of Falluja,

    Tikrit, Mosul and Kirkuk. Their main weapons are "improvised

    explosive devices," mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and sometimes

    small arms.

    New Italian troops

    Meanwhile, Italy sent fresh troops to Iraq just one day after a deadly bomb attack on the Italian base in the southern city of Nasiriya.


    An explosives-laden truck was
    driven into the building

    Eighteen Italians, two of them civilians and nine Iraqi civilians were killed in what Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini called "our September 11".

    Making good on pledges to help Iraq emerge from postwar

    chaos, 50 Carabinieri paratroopers left central Italy on Thursday to

    reinforce a contingent depleted and demoralised by Wednesday's


    The bodies of the dead troops

    are due back in Italy as soon as Saturday.

    Defence Minister Antonio Martino visited the

    blast site in Nasiriya and blamed it on the "same people" who

    had carried out the 2001 attacks on the United States.

    The Italian cabinet ruled on Thursday that the

    2300-strong Italian contingent in Iraq would stay put.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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