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A combined operation by Iraqi and American troops near Kirkuk has been conducted without a single shot fired, but with 154 suspected insurgents in custody and more than 350 weapons seized.

U.S. soldiers from the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, along with Iraqi army and police are continuing Operation Gaugamela, which launched last week; the operation included surrounding and searching the cities of Hawijah and Riyadh. The raids were targeted at suspected al-Qaida in Iraq members, officials said.

The operation was launched “following a request from local Sunni Arab leaders to rid the area outside of Kirkuk of terrorists, and as reports indicate a rise in the number of al-Qaida in Iraq moving into the area,” officials said. The 10-day operation included searching some 25 villages and covered more than 900 square miles, officials said.

Some of those raids were carried out by Iraqi troops alone.

“This was the first time the Iraqis in our area have self-sustained during an operation,” U.S. Army Capt. Krista Jekielek, the 1st Brigade’s logistics representative to the Iraqi security forces, was quoted as saying in a news release. “It was a significant validation, showing they are capable of moving the necessary personnel and supplies required to perform their mission.”

The Iraqi raids were a diversion from the main effort, U.S. officials said.

“It was my intent to disrupt insurgent operations and to deny them sanctuary in these communities,” Col. David R. Gray, 1st Brigade commander, said. “To do this, we made it look as though we were focused on the south, and then used the element of surprise to help us clear and control the areas to the north.”

With U.S. and Iraqi ground forces surrounding Hawijah, other troops in nine UH-60 Black Hawk and eight CH-47 Chinook helicopters inserted into the city and moved to the market at the city center, where they started a door-to-door search of all 700 buildings in the city.

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