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A counterinsurgency operation nears end in Iraq, aide says

41 reported dead; 3 new missions are set to follow

BAGHDAD -- A counterinsurgency operation, launched six weeks ago, is close to completion, and three missions will follow, a top Iraqi official said yesterday.

The effort, known as Operation Lightning, began on May 28 with 40,000 police officers and soldiers, who erected hundreds of checkpoints and conducted dozens of raids in the Baghdad area.

Forty-one people have been reported killed in skirmishes and almost 1,700 suspected insurgents have been detained in Operation Lightning activities, said the official, Bayan Jabr, who is Iraq's interior minister.

About 1,000 suspects remain in custody, including four Sudanese, three Palestinians, two Egyptians, two Jordanians, and one Syrian, he said.

Operation Lightning also uncovered a plot by eight police officers to bomb an Interior Ministry building that houses a police commando brigade, Jabr said in interviews with reporters. The group included eight officers, three of them lieutenant colonels.

Authorities voiced concern that they might be linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Al Qaeda in Iraq group.The officers were arrested and remained in custody.

Jabr did not say when Operation Lightning would end, but said the new efforts would begin soon.

In addition to one focusing on oil and electricity facilities, a second would be an intelligence mission for the third operation. Jabr did not give further details.

A violent insurgency has been targeting Iraqi and US-led coalition forces in attempts to force the withdrawal of foreign troops and hinder Iraq's reconstruction.

The interior minister, however, cited progress in securing Baghdad.

The number of car bombs that exploded in Baghdad was listed as 70 in May; it dropped to 40 last month because of Operation Lightning, Jabr said. He said 160 cars rigged with explosives had been dismantled.

In another development, authorities recently detained a man at Baghdad's Babylon Hotel who had $500,000 in cash along with a laptop containing the names of 7,000 Iraqi officials and relatives, Jabr said.

More than 1,465 people have been killed since the government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari took office on April 28.

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