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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

TV: Alaska troops battle sectarian violence

KTUU TV, Anchorage, Alaska
Tuesday, March 27, 2007

They might be cities you've probably never heard of; Iskandariyah, Haswah and Eskan, but they're seeing a surge in sectarian violence with attacks on religious mosques.

A battalion of Fort Richardson paratroopers have found themselves right in the middle of the violence.

In the town of Haswah, a suicide truck bomber blew up a Shi'a mosque on Saturday. It left 11 dead and 44 hurt. Among those killed were 3 Iraqi police officers.

Shi'as struck back, attacking a Sunni mosque with rocket-propelled grenades. A second Sunni mosque was attacked as well.

The First Battalion of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment from Fort Richardson is in Iraq, backing up local forces.

The commander of the 1-501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, Col. Bo Balcavage said the situation in Iraq will take some work.

"I think it will take some patience and some determination by an Iraqi police force and Iraqi army that has not yet been challenged like this in this area," Balcavage said.

He said hostile sectarian terrorists may be moving out of Baghdad because of increased security and the troop surge.

Troops are moving into places like Iskandariyah where the battalion is working to bolster Iraqi forces.

Balcavage said police units remain infiltrated by Shi'a militias and the war's ultimate success remains with them.

"We can kill terrorists here all day long, unless we increase the capabilities of the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army, we won't continue to move the mission forward," Balcavage said.

The recent surge in violence south of Baghdad has not claimed any U.S. troops, but Balcavage said it will likely get worse before it gets better.

The 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment is part of the 4th Brigade, which has lost 25 soldiers since being deployed to Iraq last fall.

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