Black Watch offensive hits 'millionaires' row'

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The Independent Online

The Black Watch today launched its biggest offensive since being controversially re-deployed to central Iraq, targeting a suspected insurgent hotbed dubbed "Millionaires' Row".

The Black Watch today launched its biggest offensive since being controversially re-deployed to central Iraq, targeting a suspected insurgent hotbed dubbed "Millionaires' Row".

With raids still continuing, military officials refrained from disclosing exact locations.

A total of 80 suspects were detained but many were later released. About 20 have been detained for further questioning.

The British forces also found suspected bomb-making equipment.

Detainees will be questioned to see if they have any connections with recent attacks on British and US forces in central Iraq.

There have so far been no reported casualties and the operation is expected to continue for several more hours.

It is part of a joint offensive, involving the Black Watch, US Marines and Iraqi special forces, aimed at rooting out suspected insurgents and terrorists in the lawless area of northern Babil province, just south of Baghdad.

The Black Watch's task was to target a specific stretch of road where the elite of Saddam Hussein's regime, including members of his Special Republican Guard and leading Baath Party officials, had their luxurious country retreats.

Each residence is set in grounds of up to three acres with up to a dozen villas and other buildings, extensive gardens and dense wooded areas.

After setting out from their base at Camp Dogwood, 25 miles south-west of Baghdad, in the early hours of this morning, The Black Watch approached the area in 33-tonne Warrior armoured fighting vehicles.

They have been gathering intelligence on Millionaires' Row since arriving at Dogwood more than three weeks ago.

There were several "high value" suspects whose homes they raided first before searching the other properties on the road.

A Puma helicopter was sent in with the Warriors to search for anyone trying to flee.

A British military spokesman in Babil said: "Although operations are on-going initial indications show that this morning's raids have been a success.

"With continued pressure we hope, with the help of the US Marines and Iraqi forces, to restore order and root out insurgents to make the area safe for the local population.

"Those detained will now be questioned and if there is no suggestion of involvement with recent activities they will be free to return to their homes."

The Black Watch raids this morning are part of a larger on-going offensive, codenamed Plymouth Rock, co-ordinated with the US 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit who are based further to the east in Babil province.

There have been unconfirmed reports that the most wanted terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, is taking refuge in north Babil.

Plymouth Rock has been described by US military officials as the biggest coalition push in Iraq since the assault on Fallujah.

Unlike Fallujah it is characterised by surgical, intelligence-led raids. aimed at rooting out insurgents.

The offensive was given its name because it is taking place over the. American Thanksgiving season.

Overall, the Plymouth Rock offensive will involve 5,000 US and British troops and 1,000 Iraqis.

While British forces swooped on Millionaire's Row this morning US Marines and newly-trained Iraqi special forces raided a small village in the area which they believe is a foothold for insurgents attacking the US and British forces.

The US Marines and Iraqis were dropped by helicopter on the outskirts of the village and spent several hours sweeping through it.

As they moved in and searched houses, supporting aircraft were on standby.

Through the night the US Marines also rebuilt a crossing which they have dubbed "IED (improvised explosive device) Bridge" after it was repeatedly blown up by insurgents.

The role of the 850-strong Black Watch battlegroup since they arrived at Camp Dogwood has been to block insurgents fleeing Fallujah.

As US attention switches from Fallujah to the trouble hotspots in north Babil around the towns of Mahmudiyah, Latifiyah and Yusufiyah, The Black Watch are expected to perform a similar function.

They will remain within the area in which they currently operate but they will ratchet up their operations in close co-ordination with US Marines and Iraqi security forces.