American and Iraqi troops have expanded their monthlong offensive in Baqouba, beginning house-to-house searches in an eastern portion of the Iraqi city.

Thousands of U.S. soldiers from the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 1-12 Combined Arms Battalion, and Iraqi troops from the 5th Iraqi Army Division are taking part in the operation targeting a district known as Old Baqouba, officials said Wednesday.

“We will drive al-Qaida out and bring security to the people and streets of Old Baqouba,” said Col. Steve Townsend, commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

On June 19, American and Iraqi troops launched Operation Arrowhead Ripper, focusing on the western side of the city.

Fighting and operations on the western side of the city have so far resulted in a reported 63 dead suspected insurgents, some 240 more arrested and some 25 booby-trapped houses found.

Some 10,000 troops are part of the larger operation.

The offensive was launched after reports of insurgents fleeing Baghdad and heading to cities north of the capital. U.S. officials have said many of the suspected insurgents had fled Baqouba in the days leading up to the assault.

Official: Sheik linked to killingsA man held in coalition custody since June 28 has been tied to the kidnapping and murder of Iraqi citizens and financial support for weapons trafficking networks, U.S. military officials said Wednesday.

The detainee has been identified as Sheik (Ahmed) Mohammad Hassan Sbahi al-Khafaji, allegedly a leader of a rogue element of the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia known as a Special Group.

Al-Khafaji was detained during an operation in Nasiriyah, according to a news release issued by Multi-National Corps–Iraq.

During the operation, Iraqi Special Operations Forces, with coalition forces advising, detained Al Khafaji and five other people.

Al-Khafaji is allegedly responsible for attacks on coalition forces and rocket attacks on bases and has been implicated in the abduction and killing of Iraqi citizens, officials say.

He also is believed to have given financial support to weapons trafficking networks that supply Iran-affiliated Special Groups in the Baghdad area.

The Special Groups received training, arms and funding from Iran’s Quds Force.

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