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U.S. and Iraqi forces have launched “disruption operations” in northern Ramadi, seeking to dislodge insurgents in one of the most heavily entrenched cities in Anbar province.

Some 150 Iraqi soldiers and 300 Marines and soldiers assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Marine Division launched Operation Bruins late Saturday, officials said. The operation is “part of a series of disruption operations in Ramadi and is designed to set the conditions for successful elections in December.”

“The forces are conducting cordon and searches, blocking off known terrorist escape routes and searching for weapons caches,” read a Marine Corps news release issued Monday.

Ramadi has long been one of the most violent cities in Iraq. Soldiers and Marines assigned to the area have experienced almost daily firefights in the downtown streets, and residents have reported armed insurgents freely roaming the streets when U.S. patrols are elsewhere.

For the past year, responsibility for the city has been divided between Marines and U.S. Army units attached to the 2nd Marine Division. Last January’s elections saw a paltry turnout, with fewer than a thousand of the city’s 400,000 residents voting.

The constitutional referendum in October fared a bit better.

But U.S. officials said Operation Bruins was part of a larger string, including Operation Panthers, which targeted the Sophia district of eastern Ramadi.

Bruins also follows a Nov. 17 incident, not reported at the time, in which U.S. forces fended off an attack and said they killed 32 insurgents in a downtown battle.

While violence flares in the city, U.S. officials say attacks against Iraqi and U.S. troops in the city have decreased 60 percent over the past month.

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