U.S. forces rescued 41 Iraqi civilians from an al-Qaida hide-out northeast of Baghdad, including some who showed signs of torture and broken bones.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said it was the largest number of detained Iraqis ever found in a single al-Qaida hide-out. Some among the 41 had been held as long as four months, he said.
Details were incomplete, but Caldwell said some of the freed Iraqis were being transported to medical facilities for treatment of their injuries. There were no indications that Americans had been held at the hide-out, he said. It was not immediately clear whether any al-Qaida figures were captured.
The discovery was unrelated to a search south of Baghdad for two missing U.S. soldiers.
U.S. forces previously have found a number of houses used by al-Qaida for detention, including some where prisoners showed signs of torture. But the hide-out raided Sunday in Diyala province was the largest, Caldwell said in a telephone interview. He declined to be more specific about the location, citing security reasons.
Caldwell said a tip to U.S. forces from Iraqis in Diyala led to the rescue operation.
"The people in Diyala are speaking up against al-Qaida," he said. Caldwell said U.S. troops have been engaging more directly with Iraqi civilians in Diyala in recent weeks since an additional 3,000 U.S. troops entered the province.
One should expect a winter escalation of hostilities. We will definitely see it either in December or early next year. There is no reason for a break - only a small part of the mobilised has been deployed to the zone of the special operation yet