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U.S. Forces Continue Sweep Of Iraqi Province

26 February 2005 -- U.S. military forces today moved onto a sixth day of what they call Operation River Blitz, aimed at increasing security in Iraq's western Al-Anbar province.

The military said it arrested 51 people yesterday and 155 since the start of the operation last week. A statement says one U.S. Marine was killed in Al-Anbar yesterday.

Also yesterday, Iraq's interim government announced it had captured what it described as a key aide to insurgent leader Abu Mu'sab al-Zarqawi. The government said the aide, Abu Qutaybah, was captured last week near the border with Syria.

On the political front, Iraq's powerful Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani yesterday endorsed conservative Islamic Al-Da'wah party leader Ibrahim al-Ja'fari for the post of prime minister. The endorsement comes as political leaders are negotiating Iraq's next government following the country's 30 January elections.