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The U.S. military in Iraq announced on Tuesday the launch of a countrywide series of operations to “pursue and neutralize remaining al-Qaida in Iraq and other extremist elements.”

The operation, called Phantom Phoenix, includes several division-level and brigade-level operations, officials said.

“Al-Qaida in Iraq is attempting to regain strength and establish new support areas in northern Iraq although this is a countrywide operation,” Lt. Col. James Hutton, the spokesman for Multi-National Corps – Iraq, said in an e-mail Tuesday to Stars and Stripes.

“AQI has fled its former sanctuaries and remains a dangerous foe.”

Officials did not describe rough numbers of troops involved or what specific operations were under way.

However, Hutton did say, “We expect this pursuit operation to be 60 to 90 days in duration. We will also focus on car and truck bomb networks and the financial networks that support AQI.”

In the release announcing the operations, the commander of MNC-I said Phantom Phoenix includes both “lethal and nonlethal” efforts and is an attempt to capitalize on security gains made in recent months.

“Working closely with the Iraqi Security Forces, we will continue to pursue al-Qaida and other extremists wherever they attempt to take sanctuary,” Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno was quoted as saying.

“Iraqi citizens continue to reject extremist elements. We are determined not to allow these brutal elements to have respite anywhere in Iraq.”

The nonlethal parts of the operation include economic development, improving local governance and improving services such as water and electricity.

“Iraqis are not passively allowing extremists to conduct their criminal activities,” Odierno said. “We are continuing to see citizens joining Concerned Local Citizen groups, provide tips for criminals and weapons and ammunition caches, and cooperate with the government of Iraq. This is another step aimed at providing Iraqis long-term sustainable security.”

Violence throughout Iraq has decreased dramatically over the summer. U.S. commanders have attributed that to the “surge” of troops in Baghdad, the aligning of Sunni tribes with the U.S. military, and a prolonged ceasefire ordered by Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.


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