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U.S. Offensive Launched In Western Iraq --> (file photo) 1 October 2005 -- Hundreds of U.S. soldiers have launched an offensive near the Iraqi-Syrian border aimed at rooting out Al-Qaeda insurgents and disrupting their support systems in the area.

The U.S. military said the operation, codenamed "Operation Iron Fist," began early today in the town of Sadah in the Anbar Province. The military declined to say whether Iraqi forces also were taking part in the operation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military today released about 500 Iraqi detainees from the Abu Ghurayb on the outskirts of Baghdad, completing its plan to free a total of more than 1,000 prisoners this week in honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States must not abandon its mission in Iraq, adding that Americans must realize the consequences of ceding the country to "merciless killers."

Speaking to students at Princeton University, Rice insisted that the Bush administration's focus on the spread of democracy in the Middle East was both a moral obligation and a response to global terrorism.


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