BAGHDAD: US troops in Iraq launched a major assault against Al Qaeda-linked militants and alleged Iranian-aided extremist groups yesterday. Operation Phantom Strike, the military announced, was being waged nationwide to disrupt Shi'ite extremist networks and insurgents affiliated to Al Qaeda, which the Americans blame for most of the violence besieging the country.
"It consists of simultaneous operations throughout Iraq focused on pursuing remaining AQI (Al-Qaeda in Iraq) terrorists and Iranian-supported extremist elements," the military said.
"My intent is to continue to pressure AQI and other extremist elements throughout Iraq to reduce their capabilities," said Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the number two commander of US forces in Iraq.
"But I can say this effort will be a top priority for combat units operating in Iraq for this period leading up to Ramadan," a spokesman said.
The US military also announced the arrests of a top "financier" of Iraqi extremist groups believed to be supported by the Quds Force, and a medical doctor it accused of harbouring and supplying Al Qaeda affiliates in Baghdad.
On the political front, Iraq's prime minister called a crisis conference in a bid to reach open a dialogue today among Iraq's divided factions, to shore up his shaky government and unstick the stalled political process.
Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki said he hoped it could take place in the next two days as he faces growing impatience with his government's perceived Shi'ite bias and failure to achieve reconciliation or to stop the sectarian violence threatening to tear the country apart.
It was a limited invite, including President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, Vice President Tariq Al Hashemi, a moderate Sunni, Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi, a Shi'ite, and Massoud Barzani, the leader of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
A senior American official in Baghdad, said the stage was set for major changes in the "structure, nature and direction of the Iraqi state."
The UAE has sent a mission to Iraq to reopen its embassy in Baghdad, the Iraqi embassy in the Gulf state said yesterday.
"Faris Al Yawer, the ambassador of the Republic of Iraq in Abu Dhabi, organised a senior technical delegation to Iraq recently to reopen the Emirati embassy in Baghdad," the Iraqi embassy said in a statement.
The UAE withdrew its most senior diplomat, the charge d'affaires, from its Iraqi embassy in May 2006 after an Emirati diplomat was kidnapped by militants for two weeks before being released.
* Separately, 42 people, including five American soldiers, were killed in violence across Iraq.