Iraqis claim 85 rebels dead in capture of training camp

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The Independent Online

American and Iraqi authorities say they have killed 85 insurgents and captured what they called a major rebel training and command centre. US forces provided air and ground support for the 90-minute operation in a remote area between Tikrit and Samarra.

American and Iraqi authorities say they have killed 85 insurgents and captured what they called a major rebel training and command centre. US forces provided air and ground support for the 90-minute operation in a remote area between Tikrit and Samarra.

US and Iraqi military spokespeople said the camp was the base for waves of car bombings in cities in northern Iraq. Among the insurgents killed, they said, were Sudanese, Algerians, Syrians and Saudis. Seven Iraqi police commandos were also killed. But a rebel group, the Islamic Army in Tikrit, claimed they were in charge of the camp and although 11 "freedom fighters" were killed, "many more" soldiers were among the dead.

Major Richard Goldenberg, of the US 42nd Infantry Division, said: "Documentation at the facility [camp showed] that some of the anti-Iraqi forces [rebels] were foreign fighters. There were no US casualties."

The Iraqi government has introduced strict residency rules to detain and expel foreign Arabs, which has led to widespread protests. The crackdown is purportedly aimed at people suspected of aiding the insurgency. But many among those arrested - more than 200 in one day in Baghdad alone - have been long domiciled in Iraq and face the prospect being uprooted.

The Palestinian community feels particularly under threat. Large numbers have lived in Iraq for generations but find themselves in the firing line because of the supposed Palestinian support for the Saddam regime. The Palestinians say they have nowhere to go. Many of their original homes are under Israeli control and there is little chance of Israel allowing them to return.

Others, such as Sudanese Arabs, also say they are victimised by the new rules. Differentiated by their darker complexions and African features, they also claim to be intimidated by Iraqi police and soldiers at roadblocks. Chechens and Iranians have also been arrested in the raids. The border with Iran is particularly porous and many extended families, Iraqis as well as Iranians, have relations in both countries.

Most of the foreign residents originally possessed valid documents from a time when Iraq's oil wealth offered relatively well-paid work. But the documents are now deemed to be invalid if they have not returned to their home countries to renew their passports and entry visas, a difficult task in a land racked by years of conflict and shackled by United Nations sanctions. And even if a foreigner has a work contract, the Ministry of Work and Social Security has the power to cancel it if the job can be done by an Iraqi.

Iraqi officials seem unwilling to drop their new hard line. Brigadier-General Taif Tariq Hussein, the head of the interior ministry's residency office, said: "Some Arabs and foreigners have destroyed the reputation of Arab and foreign countries in Iraq. They have either helped in executing sabotage operations or they have carried out sabotage." Parts of the Iraqi media have been vocal in supporting the tough measures. One of the main Baghdad newspapers, Al Taakhi, carried a front-page story headlined "Life sentence for the illegal Arab residents". Inflammatory graffiti has also begun to appear on the walls of Baghdad saying, "Arabs out of Iraq" and "We back the government - Arabs go home".

In other violence, a mortar attack killed a child in a school in Baghdad, an Iraqi policeman died when a bomb he was trying to defuse detonated and a suicide car bomber left four US soldiers wounded in Mosul.

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