US and Iraqi forces launched attacks on Baghdad's northern and southern flanks to clear out Sunni insurgents, al-Qaida fighters and Shiite militiamen who had fled the capital and Anbar during a four-month-old security operation, military officials said.
A top U.S. military official said Monday that American forces were taking advantage of the arrival of the final brigade of 30,000 additional US troops to open the concerted attacks.
"We are going into the areas that have been sanctuaries of al-Qaida and other extremists to take them on and weed them out, to help get the areas clear and to really take on al-Qaida," the senior official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the operation. "Those are areas in the belts around Baghdad, some parts in Anbar province and specifically Diyala province."
Al-Qaida has proven to be an extremely agile foe for US and Iraqi forces, as shown by its ability to transfer major operations to Diyala's provincial capital of Baqouba from Anbar province, the sprawling desert region in western Iraq. There is no guarantee that driving the organization out of current sanctuaries would prevent it from migrating to other regions to continue the fight.
The death toll in sectarian violence Monday skyrocketed after a brief period of relative peace. At least 111 people were killed or found dead nationwide, with 33 bodies of torture victims showing up in Baghdad alone.