by John F. Burns
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Feb. 20 -- Three months after American forces recaptured the
insurgent stronghold of Falluja in the biggest operation of the war, the
Marine division that led the assault said Sunday that it had started a new
offensive against insurgents in Ramadi, Falluja's twin city, on the
Euphrates about 75 miles west of Baghdad.
The Marine statement gave few details, beyond saying that the first moves
of the offensive have involved curfews and travel controls along a 100-mile
stretch of the Euphrates that runs northwest toward the Syrian border. The
statement said that the offensive involved other cities along the river,
including Hit, Baghdadi and Haditha, and that the aim was to "locate,
isolate and defeat" insurgents intent on disrupting the new government
after Iraq's recent elections.
The offensive appeared to be a new phase in the military strategy adopted
last summer, when the American military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W.
Casey Jr., took over with a plan to reclaim a string of cities that had
fallen to insurgent control.
Between August and November, the strategy drove Shiite rebels out of the
holy city of Najaf, forced a standdown by the same group in Baghdad's Sadr
City district, and ended Sunni insurgents' stranglehold on Falluja, a major
staging post for attacks.
The Falluja offensive ended with much of the city reduced to rubble, and
insurgent groups still capable, weeks later, of mounting attacks from
isolated pockets of resistance. . . .