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Iraqi, U.S. Troops Begin Operation Near Syrian Border

U.S. soldiers during a desert operation (file photo) (CTK) 5 November 2005 -- American and Iraqi troops began today what they called a major offensive near the Syrian border.

The U.S. military said the operation was designed to wipe out Al-Qaeda forces and prevent foreign fighters from entering Iraq.

Dubbed Operation Steel Curtain, the sweep involves some 3,500 troops. It is described as the first time several battalion-sized units of Iraq's military are involved in joint operations with the U.S. forces in the Sunni-dominated western Al-Anbar Province.

Also today, an Al-Qaeda branch in Iraq claimed in an Internet statement today it has executed 15 Iraqi soldiers kidnapped while on leave two days ago west of Baghdad.

The authenticity of the statement could not be verified. Separately, a report in "The New York Times" today said a UN auditing board looking into U.S. business in Iraq has recommended that the U.S. should pay some $208 million back to Iraqi government because of previous work done at inflated prices.

The report said that a subsidiary contractor of the U.S. company Halliburton, which was once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, had overcharged the Iraqi government or the work was of inferior quality.

(international agencies)

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