Iraqis' tips lead troops to militant camp strike

Thursday, March 24, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The squad of Iraqi commandos was homing in on what they thought was a militant hide-out in central Iraq, when residents pointed them toward a different target nearby -- a remote, marshy camp on the shores of Lake Tharthar, a U.S. Army spokesman said Wednesday.

At high noon, 85 militants at the training camp were killed in one of the highest guerrilla death tolls of the two-year insurgency, Iraqi officials said. They said citizens emboldened by the January elections increasingly were turning in intelligence tips.

The Tuesday commando raid, backed by U.S. air and ground fire, turned up booby-trapped cars, suicide-bomber vests, weapons and training documents, Iraqi Maj. Gen. Rashid Feleih told state television. He said the insurgents included Iraqis, Filipinos, Algerians, Moroccans, Afghans and Arabs from neighboring countries.

In three days, according to Iraqi and U.S. officials' accounts, troops have killed at least 128 insurgents nationwide. On Sunday, U.S. soldiers killed 26 insurgents south of Baghdad, while a fight during an ambush on an Iraqi security envoy killed 17 militants on Monday.

The U.S. military gave the first report of the Lake Tharthar raid, saying that seven commandos and an unspecified number of militants were killed. The military declined Wednesday to confirm the Iraqi government's death toll of 85 militants, and it was impossible to check the figure independently.

But 85 deaths would make the raid the heaviest hit militants have taken since the opening days of the U.S.-led attack in November on the city of Fallujah, where more than 1,000 insurgents died.

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