Iraq: more deaths

Iraqi forces swept through Baghdad on Sunday, erecting checkpoints and searching vehicles as they launched the largest offensive of its kind since Saddam Hussein`s ouster, but insurgents hit back with suicide bombings and ambushes that killed at least 21 people, including a British soldier.

The first of more than 40,000 soldiers and police, who are being supported by U.S. forces, searched hundreds of vehicles and raided several houses, described as "terrorist dens" in Baghdad`s Dora neighborhood, arresting several suspects, army Capt. Ihssan Abdel-Hamza said.

Operation Lightning was launched as a direct challenge to the bloody wave of &to=http:// ' target=_blank>militant attacks that have killed more than 700 people since the April 28 announcement of Iraq`s new Shiite-led government, according to an Associated Press count.

Iraqi security forces will erect 675 checkpoints to try to deter assailants around the city and in areas where attacks are frequent, and begin street-to-street sweeps.

Baghdad will be divided into two sectors, Karkh on the west bank of the &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Tigris river that separates the city, and Risafa on the east. Karkh will be divided into 15 sub-districts and Risafa into seven sub-districts. Police and emergency personnel will operate 24 hours a day.

It was not known how long the Operation Lighting would last.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the Iraqi performance in the offensive would be an important indication of their readiness to take over security issues, a key part of the U.S. exit strategy from Iraq.

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