U.S. and Iraqi forces launched a joint raid in the former insurgent stronghold of Fallujah early Wednesday, killing seven people, Iraqi officials said.
The incident highlights the ongoing fighting role of American forces in Iraq despite the official end of combat operations announced by President Barack Obama when the number of American troops fell below 50,000 at the end of August.
Under Mr. Obama’s plan, the remaining 50,000 soldiers in Iraq are focused on training Iraqi security forces but can take part in operations hunting insurgents, at the request of the Iraqi government. They can also defend themselves, and often come under fire from insurgents who lob mortars or rockets at American bases or target troops with roadside bombs.
On Wednesday, Iraqi special forces and American troops cordoned off a neighbourhood in the western part of Fallujah at about 2 a.m. before raiding several houses, police and hospital officials said.
Police officials said they did not have any information on who the troops were after, but such raids have in the past targeted suspected insurgents or al—Qaeda militants. Fallujah, a former bastion of the Sunni—led insurgency located 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad, has in recent months experienced a surge in attacks.
A security official in the city said the American and Iraqi forces took four of the dead bodies with them and the other three were taken by local police to the morgue.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
A U.S. military press officer, Staff Sgt. Kelli Lane, confirmed there was an Iraqi planned and led joint counter terrorism operation in Fallujah, but did not say what role the American forces played. She referred all other questions to the Iraqi government.
The incident in Fallujah comes on the heels of a battle in Diyala province during which American troops helped Iraqi security forces battle suspected al—Qaeda militants for two days. The American military provided drones, attack aircraft, artillery fire and ground forces, including advisers, in what appeared to be the most extensive fighting since the U.S. ended combat operations in Iraq.