BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. Marines and Iraqi soldiers killed at least 50 purported militants in the town of Karabilah in two days of intense fighting in the volatile western region of Iraq, the U.S. military reported Saturday.

American and Iraqi troops have come under heavy small-arms fire in the skirmishes in and around the desolate town but had not reported any casualties from the fighting as of late Saturday, U.S. military officials said.

While conducting searches in central Karabilah on Saturday, Marines and Iraqi soldiers came upon four Iraqi hostages handcuffed and chained to a wall in a bunker, Marine officials said. The hostages appeared badly beaten.

Meanwhile, U.S. troops with the 2nd Marine Division and Iraqi soldiers began a separate major operation in another part of restive Anbar province.

The operation in the southern Lake Thar-Thar area, about 55 miles west of Baghdad, is focusing on sweeping up large weapon caches that the U.S. military believes fighters have in the area.

The latest two military operations, which the Marines are calling Operation Spear and Operation Dagger, come after two similar efforts in May to root out enemy fighters from the western towns of Qaim and Haditha, both considered oases for foreign fighters on their trail to the capital.

Meanwhile, Iraqi and U.S. troops have increased their presence in Baghdad over the past four weeks and made more than 1,200 arrests of purported militants, according to U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

But it is still unclear how much effect the string of operations in the western Anbar province and Iraqi-led operations in Baghdad have had in the larger effort against the insurgency.

Major attacks in the capital are down in recent weeks, Maj. Gen. William Webster, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, told reporters Saturday in Baghdad. But there has been a surge in attacks north of the capital targeting Iraqi security forces, and at least 27 U.S. service members have been killed in hostile actions in Anbar so far this month.

Webster, however, said he believed there is no correlation between the decrease in violent attacks in Baghdad and the increase in violence elsewhere.

“We don’t see any evidence that (insurgents) have left here and gone to fight in the west or north,” Webster said.

Elsewhere in country, two U.S. soldiers were killed in action late Friday after coming under fire while traveling near Buhriz, a suburb of the northern city of Baqouba.

An Iraqi civilian and a detainee the soldiers were transporting at the time of incident were also killed in the fighting, and two Iraqi civilians and a U.S. soldier were injured, the U.S. military reported Saturday.

In a separate development, a prominent Iraqi reporter with the Dubai satellite channel Al-Arabiya was in critical condition Saturday after being shot during an apparent kidnapping attempt in Baghdad.

Jawad Kadhem, 39, who has been covering the war in Iraq for Al-Arabiya for more than two years, was approached by two gunmen as he walked out of the White Palace restaurant in the Karrada neighborhood with two other colleagues. One colleague, Wael Essam, said that one of the gunmen grabbed Kadhem by the neck and brandished a weapon.

When Kadhem attempted to run away, the gunmen fired. Essam was uninjured, and the other station employee suffered minor injuries.


Kadhem, who worked for a state-owned Iraqi television station before the fall of the former regime, said in a conversation with Chicago Tribune reporters a day earlier that he was increasingly worried about his own safety. At least eight employees of the station have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war.

On Saturday, his brother, Ahmed Kadhem, said he believed Kadhem was targeted, because he reported honestly on the resistance in Iraq.

“He was targeted, because he was a journalist and he told the truth,” Ahmed Kadhem said in an interview with Al-Arabiya.

In other developments, a 10-year-old girl was killed when a roadside bomb targeting a passing American convoy in Baghdad detonated near her.

The body of a Sunni tribal leader, Sheik Arkan Shaalan Jassim al-Edwan, was found Saturday by police on the outskirts of his village near Mahmoudiya, about 20 miles south of Baghdad, The Associated Press reported.

(Chicago Tribune special correspondent Nadeem Majeed contributed to this report.)

(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune.

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