Little Green Footballs

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

5 key towns taken by insurgents

The insurgency that's had its back 'broken' seems to be upping its campaign. Remember folks this isn't a quagmire. This isn't the new Vietnam.

A senior U.S. Marine commander said Monday that insurgents loyal to militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had taken over at least five key western Iraqi towns on the border with Syria and were forcing local residents to flee.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Lt. Col. Julian Alford, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment stationed outside the western Iraqi town of al Qaim, said insurgents in the area had been distributing flyers they called "death letters," in which they ordered residents of this western corner of volatile Anbar province to leave -- or face death.

"Basically, the insurgents say if they don't leave they will ... behead them," said Alford, who took command this month of about 1,000 Marines stationed in the dusty desert area populated by roughly 100,000 Sunni Arabs.

"It appears that al Qaeda in Iraq is kicking out local people from a lot of these towns out there," he said. Alford said he did not know why the insurgents were forcing townspeople to leave, but he estimated that as many as 100 families per day were passing through a Marine checkpoint just east of the troubled area, their cars packed with their belongings as they flee east alongside the Euphrates River on the ancient Silk Road.

Two weeks ago, Marine spokesmen denied initial reports that insurgents had taken control of the area and were enforcing strict Islamic law, whipping men accused of drinking alcohol, burning a beauty parlor and shops that sold CDs and executing government workers for collaboration with the Iraqi government.

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