Iraq Report: More on the search, Diyala and battling Mahdi
As we noted late last night, the search for the three missing U.S. soldiers has intensified in the "Triangle of Death," the region south of Baghdad, particularly in teh areas near Yusifiah and Mahmudiyah. This region "has been divided into 35 zones of which 32 have been searched," according to CNN. Two suspects involved in the assault have been captured, a battalion commander involved in the search in the region told CNN's Arwa Damon. "They do not appear to be al Qaeda members, the commander said. They told interrogators they were paid by a middle man to take part in the attack."
The hunt for the missing soldiers has not been limited to the Triangle region alone. The regions south and east of Fallujah in Anbar province are also the focus of Coalition and Iraqi operations. "Things are pretty hot and heavy over in Zaidon and across the river from Amiriyah," an unnamed soldier serving in Anbar province informed us earlier today. This is the region where al Qaeda maintains base of support, and where it was initially believed al Qaeda would transport the captives.
Diyala province remains a hot spot, and al Qaeda pulled off a major attack at a predominantly Shia market in the village of Abu Saydah. At least 32 Iraqis were killed and 50 wounded after a suicide bomber attacked an open air market. Doctors treating the victims of the attack claim they were part of a chlorine gas attack, however Iraqi police have denied this.
Elsewhere in Diyala, Voices of Iraq, an independent Iraqi newspaper, is reporting a large scale operation against al Qaeda in the province have begun. "Forces from the Iraqi 2nd and 4th Divisions, backed by U.S. troops, started on Monday a wide-scale security campaign to track down armed groups all over the province," an anonymous Iraqi Army source told Voices of Iraq. "The operation began by tracking down groups that have strongholds in the Hamrin mountains and in adjacent spots to the area of al-Aazim during the first phase." While Iraqi units may be conducting operations in the outlying areas of Diyala, the major offensive is not expected to begin until June, when the last U.S. combat brigade arrives in theater. The current operations are likely preparing the battlefield for the larger fight.
In the Shia south, Iraqi police and the Army clashed with Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army in the city of Nasiriyah after police detained "two members of the powerful Shiite militia and accused them of targeting US-led and Iraqi forces with homemade bombs and mortars." Two Iraqi soldiers and 9 civilians were killed, and an unknown number of Mahdi fighters were wounded in the clash. Fighting between Mahdi militiamen and the police and Army was also reported in the cities of Diwaniyah and Al Shatra.